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31 241 

Mppolyta's View 


J. A. Bryant, Jr. 





J. A. Bryant, Jr. 


Copyright 1961 by the University of Kentucky Press 

Printed in the United States of America by the 

Division of Printing, University of Kentucky 

Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 


Jo my parents 



PURPOSE in writing this book is reflected in the title I 
have given to it. I wanted, first, to say something about Shake- 
speare's view and practice of poetry, which I believe derived 
from a catholic and Christian view of life, and, second, to 
demonstrate the effect of that view of poetry in a representative 
selection of his plays. This is the view of poetry 'that I have 
called "Hippolyta's view" in the first chapter and have either 
demonstrated or assumed in all the analyses of plays that follow. 
There are probably some who will find the view uncongenial 
and others who will question the relevance of it to the study of 
Shakespeare. If such readers remain unconvinced after thirteen 
chapters, I may still hope perhaps to convince them in other 
essays at another time. To readers, however, who object to my 
calling the view Christian I can say only that I have not wished 
to speak for anyone who does not wish to be spoken for. If in 
ages of widespread conformity serious Christians have managed 
to disagree widely about the essentials of their faith, it is cer- 
tainly unwise to hope that in our time any one collection of 
assertions about Christianity, least of all mine, may satisfy every- 
body who calls himself Christian. The most I hope for is that 
Christians of the communions which may be broadly termed 
"catholic" will find my assertions reasonably satisfactory and 
that the rest will recognize most of them as assertions which 
Shakespeare's conforming contemporaries might have made 
without public embarrassment or private misgivings. 

I have incurred many obligations during the writing of this 
book, the greatest of which is the one to my wife and children, 
who alternately helped and endured during the whole process. 


I owe slightly smaller debts to many students, colleagues, and 
other friends, who from time to time have encouraged, criticized, 
contradicted, and listened to my views on Shakespeare; and of 
these I am especially grateful to Neil Bennett of Vanderbilt and 
Charles Harrison of the University of the South, both of whom 
have contributed more than they know to this study. Professor 
Roy W. Battenhouse of Indiana University has read the manu- 
script through, and his suggestions, corrections, and friendly 
warnings have saved me from many blunders; but I have stub- 
bornly retained several others, and for all these I take responsi- 
bility. My debts to the Sewanee Review and its editor, Monroe 
K. Spears, are as numerous as they are large. I am grateful first 
for encouragement and support of my first efforts in this kind 
of criticism and for permission to reprint with revisions essays 
that appear here as Chapters II, IV 7 XIII, and a part of Chapter 
I. I am especially grateful for a Sewanee Review Fellowship 
which enabled me to spend six months writing additional 
chapters and putting the manuscript into final form. In this 
connection, I wish also to thank the University of the South for 
granting me leave to accept the fellowship and for supporting 
my work during the summers of 1957 and 1958. 

The Houghton Mifflin Company has very generously allowed 
me to take all my quotations from Shakespeare from their New 
Cambridge Edition, edited by William Allan Neilson and 
Charles Jarvis Hill. Francis Fergusson kindly gave me permis- 
sion to quote from his essay on Macbeth as it appeared in The 
Human Image in Dramatic Literature published by Doubleday 
& Company, Inc. I wish to thank also two publishers for 
granting me permission to use the following copyrighted ma- 
terial: Benziger Brothers, Inc., for several passages from The 
"Summa Theologica" of St. Thomas Aquinas, translated by the 
Fathers of the English Dominican Province; and Clarendon 
Press, for a passage from William Walrond Jackson's transla- 
tion of Dante's Convivio. 

For assistance in countless ways I am profoundly grateful to 
the staffs of the Joint University Libraries in Nashville, the 


library of the University of the South, the Biblioteca CREFAL 
of Patzcuaro, Michoacan, Mexico, and the Folger Shakespeare 

Durham, North Carolina J. A. B., Jr. 

28 August 1960 



page vii 




























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c/ HERE ARE many legitimate reasons for calling Shakespeare's 
work Christian. Some critics have done so because his plays 
contain numerous Christian allusions, some because they deal 
occasionally with demonstrably Christian subject matter, and 
others because here and there they seem to lean upon Christian 
dogma. Yet none of these reasons nor, for that matter, any 
combination of them can justify one's saying that Shakespeare's 
work is fundamentally Christian poetry. Numerous as his refer- 
ences to Christian topics are, Shakespeare obviously had a great 
deal more to say about such things as history, politics, and 
human conducttopics which concern everybody, not Chris- 
tians only. Moreover, when one considers also that Shakespeare 
wrote his plays for the commercial and profane theater of 
Elizabethan England and that he wrote primarily to amuse and 
divert rather than to instruct, one almost automatically rules 
out the possibility of finding many religious implications in 
them. Thus he remains for most readers a writer whose concern 
with religious matters folowed pretty closely the demands of 
the stories that he used. 

This book contains no attempt to prove that Shakespeare was 
anything other than a secular writer, nor does it contain any 


speculations about his private faith or public professions. It does 
suggest, however, that his work is Christian in a way no critic 
can ignore. The difficulty we have in seeing this is partly the 
result of our passion for making nice distinctions. We like, for 
example, to distinguish clearly between what is religious and 
what is not; and unfortunately, where Shakespeare's poetry is 
concerned, the tendency to make such a distinction can do a 
great deal more harm than good. For that tendency is usually 
accompanied by a special attitude toward poetry generally. 
People who have it are sometimes given to citing, as reasonably 
authoritative Shakespeare, Theseus 7 remarks about poetry at 
the beginning of the last act of A Midsummer Night's Dream: 

The poet's eye, in a fine frenzy rolling, 
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from 

earth to heaven; 

And as imagination bodies forth 
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen 
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing 
A local habitation and a name. 


This is a fine passage indeed provided, of course, one strips it 
from its context, in which the vision of poetry is reduced to an 
antique fable and equated with the fruitless visions of madmen 
and lovers. Taken in isolation, it compares favorably with half 
a dozen other Elizabethan commonplaces in which the philoso- 
pher's "infallible grounds of wisdom" are "illuminated or figured 
forth by the speaking picture of poesy." To take it seriously, 
however, would be to risk reducing all poetry to the status of a 
mechanical kind of allegory. Fortunately Shakespeare does not 
ask us to take it seriously. Theseus, who is obviously well versed 
in Elizabethan critical formulations, is saying that he rejects 
the lovers' strange story of their night in the wood as something 
jip more believable than the tall tale of a madman or a poet. 
It is not he but Hippolyta who advances the basis for accepting 
the story, and her remarks are almost never cited: 1 


But all the story of the night told over, 
And all their minds transfigured so together, 
More witnesseth than fancy's images, 
And grows to something of great constancy; 
But, howsoever, strange and admirable. 


The thing to notice here is that Hippolyta accepts the story 
not because the lovers' reports agree but because the whole 
story, told over as one, has the individual vitality to assume a 
life of its own, grow to something of great constancy however 
marvellous, and command belief in a way that the things 
Theseus calls poetry never could. In her humble and uncritical 
way Hippolyta has redefined poetry for Theseus and his kind, 
giving to the story of a midsummer night at least as much 
credence and value as she would give to events of the night 
itself. For her the transfigured story is the dream that is real, 
vital, and efficacious; and that dream, whatever else one may 
care to call it, is poetry. 

This study, dealing as it does with the Christian interpretation 
of Shakespeare, begins with the assumption that poetry is what 
Hippolyta suggests it is and that her view, if not exclusively 
Christian, is at least consistent with distinctively Christian 
teaching. This is not to say that Christianity has ignored 
Theseus' kind of poetry. According to his definition, the poet 
apprehends directly something that most mortals cannot readily 
apprehend and proceeds to translate his vision into concrete 
terms for popular edification. The poem thus made would be a 
collection of what Edwyn Bevan has usefully described as 
symbols behind which we can see. 2 That is, they would be 
symbols that help the reader on to some superior kind of 
knowledge, as an anchor in an emblem points in a general way 
to an understanding of one aspect of hope. Hippolyta's kind of 
poetry, however, corresponds to what Bevan has called "symbols 
behind which we cannot see." For her, as for Bevan, this kind 
of symbol is our nearest approach to reality, and is much to be 


preferred to any philosophic formulation of the truth it mysteri- 
ously embodies. Thus in Hippolyta's view the poet begins, not 
with an abstract formulation, but with things as they seem to 
be in their concreteness; and, whereas Theseus' poet accom- 
modates or translates into concrete terms something that is 
otherwise unperceived, hers transforms what is readily perceived 
into something that can be known. Theseus' poet orders the 
data of experience in a dream that we expect to reject as soon 
as we have grasped the reality to which it points. Hippolyta's 
poet recreates the data of experience in a dream that is truth 
itself, or all we shall likely get of truth this side of paradise. 

For Christians of Hippolyta's persuasion the supreme exemplar 
of poet and poem would be Jesus of Nazareth, incarnate creator 
of the world. There are important differences, of course. In 
the beginning, it is said, Christ created out of nothing; and 
his creation, bright and revealing as it is, is not so bright or so 
revealing as Christ himself, to whom Christians look for as 
much truth as they with their mortal limitation can perceive. 
The human poet is not a Christ, and he cannot make something 
out of nothing, as Christ did; but his making is a species of 
creation nevertheless. One might call it an act in continuation 
of that impulse by which the world was made, an act performed 
in emulation of the original creator, or the human and partial 
redemption of experience from scattered data and the trans- 
formation of that experience into something strange, admirable, 
and of great constancy. In short, the poet is not God, but he 
does God's work in God's way. 

The two views of poetry represented in this brief exchange 
between Theseus and Hippolyta are, of course, much older than 
Shakespeare. Dante made a similar distinction when he set 
forth the difference between the "allegory of the poets" and the 
"allegory of the theologians." Unfortunately for some who have 
tried to relate Dante's formulations to Shakespeare, Dante 
described both kinds of allegory in terms of the convenient 
four-level system that had been evolved over the centuries for 
the interpretation of Scripture; and for both kinds he mentioned 


literal, allegorical, moral, and anagogical senses. The allegory 
of the poets as Dante describes it in the Convito (Tractate ILi) 
is simply a collection of symbols (including fable) behind which 
one can see a number of other, more important, meanings. 
Poetry looked at in this way is pretty much what Theseus thinks 
it is a collection of habitations and names applied to unbodied 
values and concepts. We might call it parabolic or emblematic 
poetry, for the reader of it is always expected to take the 
"literal" tale mainly for diversion and to derive from the allegory 
the more valuable moral and spiritual insight that lies hidden 
behind it. In the Convito Dante says of the first and second 

The first is called literal, and this is that sense which does not go 
beyond the strict limits of the letter; the second is called allegorical, 
and this is disguised under the cloak of such stories, and is a truth 
hidden under a beautiful fiction. Thus Ovid says that Orpheus 
with his lyre made beasts tame, and trees and stones move towards 
himself; that is to say that the wise man by the instrument of his 
voice makes cruel hearts grow mild and humble, and those who 
have not the life of Science and of Art move to his will, while they 
who have no rational life are as it were like stones. And wherefore 
this disguise was invented by the wise will be shown in the last 
Tractate but one. Theologians indeed do not apprehend this sense 
in the same fashion as poets; but, inasmuch as my intention is to 
follow here the custom of poets, I will take the allegorical sense 
after the manner which poets use. 8 

The allegory of the theologians differs from this in two 
important ways, one of which has to do with the nature of the 
literal sense and the other with the nature of the allegorical. 
First, the term "allegory of the theologians" refers to the tradi- 
tional application of the fourfold system to Scriptural exegesis 
and thus carries with it the suggestion that the literal (or 
primary) sense is historical and factual as opposed to something 
fabulous or contrived. There will always be a few readers who 
will insist that Dante, regardless of what he may have written 


in his Epistle to Can Grande, cannot have meant to apply 
"allegory of the theologians" to his Commedia, which, strictly 
speaking, is at least as fabulous in the literal sense as Virgil's 
Aeneid. Recently in answering one such reader, Charles S. 
Singleton pointed out that the distinction between the two kinds 
of allegory is fundamentally a distinction between two focuses 
for reading. 4 If the reader, in the act of reading, regards the 
literal sense as "imaginary" and justifiable mainly according to 
the "truth" it conveys, he is reading according to the focus of 
the allegory of poets. If, however, in the act of reading he can 
take the literal sense to be real (as we take any piece of natural- 
istic fiction to be real while we read it) and at the same time 
find it revelatory of the shape of other events which are also 
real, then he is reading according to the focus of the allegory 
of the theologians. "How is it," asks Singleton, "that we read 
the Comedy with essentially the same sense of reality as we get 
in reading War and Peace and yet get also, in the poem, as an 
inseparable part of its illusion, the double vision which is 
allegory as Dante constructed it?" 5 His answer is that Dante's 
poem is actually a double imitation: first, of the created universe 
of God, which is itself a book of symbols of divine things; and 
second, of Holy Scripture, which is God's use of history to reveal 
his way for mankind. 

This is where the second important difference between the 
allegory of the poets and that of the theologians comes in. With 
the poets the second sense, or "allegory," is a segment of general 
truth clothed in the literal fable (as Orpheus tamed wild beasts, 
so the wise man tames cruel hearts); with the theologians, 
however, the second sense refers to some aspect of the Incarna- 
tion, which is the fullest manifestation of God's way with man 
and the subject of everything in the Bible. Dante makes this 
clear in his Epistle to Can Grande: 

The first is called literal, but the second allegorical or mystical. That 
this method of expounding may be more clearly set forth, we can 
consider it in these lines: "When Israel went out of Egypt, the house 


of Jacob from a people of strange language, Judah was his sanctuary 
and Israel his dominion." For if we consider the letter alone the 
departure of the children of Israel from Egypt in the time of Moses 
is signified; if the allegory , our redemption accomplished in Christ 
is signified. 6 

At this point Dante goes on to define the third and fourth 
senses, trope and anagoge; but apparently he believes that 
theologians and poets look upon these two senses in much the 
same way. Clearly the crux of the matter with him, as it had 
been with St. Thomas Aquinas before him, is in the relation 
between the first two senses, which with the poets had con- 
sisted simply of a contrived fable referring to some generally 
applicable truth but with the theologians had consisted of a 
credible fable, usually a Scriptural one, participating by analogy 
in the action of the incarnate Christ. 

The magnitude of the difference between poets and theo- 
logians on this point can be seen by turning briefly to Aquinas' 
beautifully precise exposition of the fourfold method as he 
understood it. 7 The literal sense, Aquinas explains, is not the 
text of Scripture but the concrete object, "that which is figured" 
by the text. (Drama, one might observe, is the only literary 
form that avoids the difficulty of an intervening text, since the 
text of drama, unlike that of narrative, is itself an aspect of the 
concrete object.) "When Scripture speaks of God's arm, the 
literal sense is not that God has such a member, but only what 
is signified by this member, namely, operative power." Thus 
upon what is signified, upon what is figured, pointed to, depend 
whatever spiritual meanings the passage may have. If we like, 
we may say that the literal meaning is that which exists in time 
or which is time in short, history itself. At the other end of 
the scale, there is the anagogical sense, which, though it includes 
time, is not bound by time. This is the Logos that transcends 
time being simultaneously (to use the timebound adverb) 
Alpha and Omega. Mediating between these two is allegory, 
which is both in time and out of it and is at once the means 


whereby the anagoge manifests itself in time and the means 
whereby time becomes significant. Allegory, as Aquinas defines 
it, refers to the meeting place of the temporal and the eternal, 
the intelligible center, the Word made flesh. Thus through that 
allegory we know all that we can ever know of anagoge, or God 
in the person of the Father; and without that allegory even 
history would be meaningless for us. Without it, indeed, history 
would not exist at all. 

Allegory in this sense is also the point from which Scripture 
derives its trope or moral sense. To go back to Aquinas' explana- 
tion: "so far as the things done in Christ, or so far as the things 
which signify Christ, are types of what we ought to do, there is 
the moral sense/' We are not bound by the letter of the old 
law, for that law was fulfilled in Christ. We are bound instead 
by the allegory of the law, which is the type of what we under 
grace ought to do. This is simply another way of saying that 
Christians live by Christ and reject utterly the attempt to live 
either directly by ultimate truth or by any other symbol of it. 
Allegory is the center for all we know or can ever know as 
human beings the meaning of history, the pattern of right 
action, and the reflection of truth, which even as yet we see 
but as in the dark surface of an ancient mirror. 

The danger in using the fourfold system, or any similar system, 
for interpretation (whether of Scripture or of genuinely Christian 
poetry) is that we may forget the centrality of the "allegory 
which is Christ/' For that reason we should be cautious, unless 
we happen to be talking about certain kinds of mysticism, in 
using the common phrase "four levels" to refer to the four 
senses. What Aquinas has in mind is nothing like a stairway. 
A better analogy would be that of a single wheel rotating upon 
an axle. We might think of the axle as Scripture, or history, 
pointing to the hub and existing solely for the sake of the wheel. 
The hub can be said to be Christ or allegory, which reproduces 
the shape of the axle and bears upon it. Radiating from that 
hub are spokes, the multifarious ramifications of trope, deriving 
their force and meaning from the hub and leading to the rim, 


or anagoge, which encompasses the whole. Such an analogy is 
imperfect, certainly, but it is better than the customary one of 
four levels; and it has the advantage of putting the Incarnation 
at the intelligible center, the point of turning, where it belongs. 

There is nothing essentially Christian about the various sys- 
tems of multiples intelligentia, as systems. 8 Such things came 
into being long before Christianity and were early acommodated 
to the Neoplatonic schema of successive emanations of truth. 
As some of the earlier Christian writers used them, they served 
as mystical ladders, whereby one could rise through progres- 
sively bright stages of understanding to the divine gloom of full 
illumination. 9 Even among later writers there was sometimes 
the tendency but always a tendency to be resisted to let the 
allegory become merely a second level, one step on the road to 
something else. 10 But in Dante and in Aquinas, as in Augustine 
and in numerous others, we find a complete accommodation 
of the schema to the central Christian doctrine of the Incarna- 
tion. The literal "level" of a piece of writing, whether Scripture 
or nonscriptural fiction, is always the letter of knowledge to 
which the "spirit giveth life/' That is, the Incarnation is the 
fulfillment, the redemption of history rather than the replace- 
ment of it. And it is the idea of incarnation that is important, 
not the critical vehicle that makes it articulate. Sir John Har- 
ington's recourse to a system of mutiplex intelligentia to defend 
his translation of Orlando Furioso (1591) is notoriously rigid 
and sterile, but it is no more rigid and sterile than Dante's 
exposition of four levels in the Convito. Dante, fortunately for 
us, came to see that it was sterile. 

The history of the Christian doctrine of Incarnation is an 
interesting one, complex and variously told, but it has little 
bearing on this study. Miss Ruth Wallerstein in the second 
chapter of her book on seventeenth-century poetic placed Donne 
and some of the other metaphysicals at the end of a long 
literary tradition of style which she called "Augustinian." 11 One 
might quibble with her calling the tradition a literary one, or 
even question her use of the word tradition; but she unques- 


tionably put her finger on something that is common to 
Augustine, Bonaventure, Hugh of St. Victor, and John Donne, 
and central to all of them. The notion that the "world is a 
fair field, fresh with the odor of Christ's name," as Augustine 
once put it, 12 is bound to appear whenever and wherever 
Christianity is vital. Dante had the notion; the author of the 
Second Shepherds 9 Play, whoever he may have been, had it; it 
appeared in the Chester Plays, and in Piers Plowman. It ap- 
peared in the work of Spenser and Bunyan, to mention two 
whose "allegory" is commonly taken by academics for something 
it is not, at least not exclusively. It peeps through occasionally 
in Wyatt, and it appears in most of the poems of John Donne. 
In our own time it has appeared notably in the work of T. S. 
EIiot. ls In some periods it appears only as an eccentric mani- 
festation, and then rarely; in other periods it seems to be every- 
where, common as bread. 

One of the periods when it was common was Shakespeare's, 
and this in spite of the fact that many of the theologians of 
Shakespeare's day had rejected the systems of multiplex intelli- 
gentia as old fashioned or "popish" or both. Arnold Williams 
in his valuable study The Common Expositor points out that 
even those Catholic expositors who continued to make some 
use of the old "mystic" interpretations treated such things more 
as plausible applications than as true interpretations. 14 The 
important thing to notice, however, is what stood clear and firm 
after much of the old exegetical structure had been abandoned, 
and what did stand clear was what had all along been the dis- 
tinctively Christian part of the systems: the principle of typology, 
the view that the figure of Jesus Christ is the subject not of the 
New Testament merely, but of every history, prophecy, psalm, 
and proverb in the Old. 15 Erich Auerbach was perhaps right 
in saying that the conception of history implicit in this principle 
"was completely alien to the mentality of classical antiquity." 16 
He was also at least essentially right when he went on to say 
that "it annihilated that mentality down to the very structure 
of its language, which with all its ingenious and nicely shaded 


conjunctions, its wealth of devices for syntactic arrangement, 
its carefully elaborated system of tenses became wholly super- 
fluous as soon as earthly relations of place, time, and cause had 
ceased to matter, as soon as a vertical connection, ascending 
from all that happens, converging in God, alone became sig- 
nificant." Auerbach's central argument here is certainly not 
likely to be questioned: the resulting "Western" conception 
of history was indeed a compromise between history deriving 
its significance from causal or horizontal connections between 
separate events and history deriving its significance from events 
linked vertically to a common source of meaning. Needless to 
say, this compromise never succeeded in producing a rash of 
typological interpretations in formal historiography during the 
Elizabethan period, nor for that matter during any other. 
Historiography during Elizabeth's time, when it was not domi- 
nated by humanists, was frequently "providential"; but his- 
torians generally did not go about finding figures of Christ in 
their pages. They did not even spend a great deal of space in 
presenting applications of the "lessons" of history, though they 
invariably in their prefaces invited others to draw them. The 
emphasis upon typology appeared where one would expect it 
to appear, in devotional tracts, in exegetical works, and in 
sermons; and in the sermon, typology had an opportunity to 
influence the thinking of practically all Elizabethans, whether 
literate or illiterate. 

Almost everybody heard sermons in those days, and almost 
everybody who heard sermons heard typological interpretations 
of Scripture. One is not surprised, of course, to find such things 
in the work of an orthodox Anglican like Bartholomew Chamber- 
laine, who announced in a sermon on the Passion, preached 
April 25, 1580: 

For, Christ, is the Lambe slayne from the beginning of the world. 
Slaine in figure, in the purpose of God, in the vertue of his passion 
from the beginning of the world. Then is Christ slain to euery one, 
when he beleeueth him slaine. lesus Christ yesterday, and to day 


the same for euer. From the beginning of the world to his ascention, 
that is yesterday, from his ascention to the common resurrection, 
that is to day, from the common resurrection for euer he is one. 
Therefore one faith, one religion, one kind of Sacraments in sub- 
stance, one way to heauen from the beginning, one spiritual! meate 
and drinke. Our fathers did all eate the same spirituall meate which 
wee eate, and dranke the same spirituall drinke which we drinke. 
They dranke of the Rocke which followed them, & the rock was 
Christ. 17 

The reformer John Foxe, however, could do almost as well. In 
a sermon preached on the christening of a Jew and published 
at London in 1578, he said: 

their owne Prophets did long before pronounce, that the Messhias 
should be persecuted with none so sauage and unmerciful enemies, 
as the people of his owne linage: and did also under most manifest 
oracles and apparent veiles of shadowish signes prognosticate that he 
should be slaine through the treacherous treason of his owne people. 
After the same sort was the blood of Abel spilt by the embrued 
hand of his bloodie brother Cain: Joseph entrapped and solde by 
the sinister practice and procurement of his brother Judah: the 
lambe of the passeouer slaine and deuoured peecemeale in the houses 
of them, which were deliuered by the blood of the same: so was 
Moyses oftentimes contemptuously entreated, and disdainefully railed 
upon amongst his owne kinfolkes: king David cruelly assaulted not 
of Saul onely, but (which is more horrible) of the folks of his owne 
familie, of his neighbours, citizens and subiects. 18 

Henry Smith, Puritan, reader at St. Clement Danes, was even 
more fond of typology, if his published works be any criterion, 
and equally convinced that Christ is the one subject of the 
entire Bible. At the beginning of a sermon on Romans xm.14 
("Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ") he declared: 

I have chosen a text which is the sum of the Bible. For all Scripture 
runneth upon Christ, like the title of a book, because he is Alpha 
and Omega, Rev. i. 8, the beginning and the end of man's salvation; 
therefore he is figured in the law, foretold in the prophets, and 


fulfilled in the gospel. Some places point to his divinity, some to his 
humanity, some to his kingdom, some to his priesthood, some to his 
prophecy, some to his conception, some to his birth, some to his 
life, some to his miracles, some to his passion, some to his resur- 
rection, some to his ascension, some to his glorification; all point to 
the Saviour, like John Baptist, when he said, "This is the Lamb of 
God, which taketh away the sins of the world," John i. 29. There- 
fore learn Christ and learn all. 19 

Even Henry Ainsworth, Brownist and leader of the separatist 
congregation at Amsterdam, could write upon the first page of 
a preface to a set of annotations upon the Pentateuch: 

In the propounding of these things, Moses hath a veil drawn over 
his bright and glorious face: for in the histories are implied Allegories, 
& in the lawes are types and shadowes of good things that were to 
come; the body whereof, is of Christ. In Genesis, (which historic 
endeth with the going down of Israel into Egypt,) we have the 
Image of a natural man, fallen from God into the bondage of syn. 
In Exodus, is the type of our regeneration, and state renewed by 
lesus Christ. In Leviticus, the shadow of our mortification whiles 
we are made sacrifices unto God. In Numbers, the figure of our 
spirituall warfare wher unto we are mustered and armed to fight the 
good fight of faith. In Deuteronomie, the doctrine of our santifica- 
tion, and preparation to enter into our heavenly Canaan, (after 
Moses death) by the conduct of lesus the son of God. 20 

Almost everybody could agree with observations like these be- 
cause almost everybody accepted the principle behind them. 

The interesting thing about the Elizabethan emphasis upon 
typology is that in most cases it was genuinely sacramental; 
that is, it insisted upon the sign as something participating in 
Christ, not merely standing for him. The literal sense of Scrip- 
ture, conceived of as event rather than as rhetoric, was all impor- 
tant. In fact, one of the best theologians of the time, William 
Whitaker, followed Aquinas closely in setting forth this "ortho- 
dox" attitude toward Holy Writ, as a few passages from his 
A Disputation on Holy Scripture (1588) will make clear: 


As to those three spiritual senses, it is surely foolish to say that 
there are as many senses of Scripture as the words themselves may 
be transferred and accommodated to bear. For although the words 
may be applied and accommodated tropologically, allegorically, 
anagogically, or any other way; yet there are not therefore various 
senses, various interpretations and explications of scripture, but there 
is but one sense, and that the literal, which may be variously 
accommodated, and from which various things may be collected. 21 

When we proceed from the sign to the thing signified, we bring no 
new sense, but only bring out into light what was before concealed 
in the sign. When we speak of the sign by itself, we express only 
part of the meaning and so also when we mention only the thing 
signified: but when the mutual relation between the sign and the 
thing signified is brought out, then the whole complete sense, which 
is founded upon this similitude and agreement, is set forth. . . . 
[God] hath set before us the punishment of the Jews pourtrayed 
as it were in a picture, that we may constantly have it before our 
eyes. They had indeed many things of a typical nature, the cloud, 
the passage through the sea, the water from the rock, the manna; 
which all were symbols to the pious of heavenly things. As the 
water flowing from the rock refreshed the weary people, and the 
manna fed them, so Christ cheers and preserves us. As they were 
enveloped in the cloud, and set in the midst of the waves of the 
great deep, so all the godly are washed by the blood of Christ. 
These were all sacraments to them, and so the pious understood 
them. When, therefore, these are expounded literally of the things 
themselves, spiritually of celestial graces, we do not make two 
diverse senses; but, by expounding a similitude, we compare the 
sign with the thing signified, and so bring out the true and entire 
sense of the words. 22 

From the conviction, here expounded, that the events of Scrip- 
ture are sacramental it is only a short step to the conviction of 
St. Augustine that the whole world is fresh with the odor of 
Christ's name. Donne, who liked a typological interpretation 
as well as any, frequently gives evidence of such a conviction, 
though he is usually careful to dissociate himself from con- 


temporary advocates of natural religion: "Certainly, every Crea- 
ture shewes God, as a glass, but glimmeringly and transitorily, 
by the frailty both of the receiver, and beholder: Our selves have 
his Image, as Medals, permanently, and preciously delivered. 
But by these meditations we get no further, then to know what 
he doth, not what he is/' 23 Devout Puritans, of course, could 
and did say much the same thing; and one of them, Edward 
Bering (15407-1576), managed to say it with considerable 

The Lord may hide his face for a while, for a moment in his anger, 
as he did from Christ, but he must needes retume unto me with 
euerlasting mercies, for the image of his sonne is cleare within me. 
A blessed sorrow, and woe: full of happinesse, that fashioneth 
these dayes of my vanitie into the similitude of the age of Christ, 
that with him at last I might raigne for euer. A precious countenance 
it is in the sight of God, that seemeth without beautie in the eyes 
of man, and an unspeakeable treasure of joy and gladnes engrauen 
in these vessels that are but earth and ashes. When Christ is the 
paterne, whose similitude we beare, who can be discouraged under 
the crosse? 24 

One may wonder what all this has to do with the interpreta- 
tion of the works of Shakespeare, who was not a divine and 
whose religious affiliation, if any, has been debated inconclu- 
sively for many generations. The connection would probably 
have been as difficult for most Elizabethans to see as it is now 
for usthough for different reasons. First of all, the average 
Elizabethan (who was religious and Christian, whatever his 
doctrinal persuasions may have been) would probably have sat, 
or stood, through a Shakespeare play without noticing the 
astonishing number of allusions to Scripture, Prayer Book, and 
dogma generally. He would have missed them because to him 
they were commonplace; we miss them because to us they are 
almost completely foreign, and their strangeness seems but a 
part of the general strangeness of an unfamiliar language. With 
all our learning, we are likely to be unaware until it is pointed 


out to us that Shakespeare more than any other popular play- 
wright of his time had absorbed the language of Prayer Book 
and Geneva Bible. Fortunately that much at least has been 
pointed out to us. 25 What remains to be examined is the way 
this assimilated material worked in his art. 

The solution most likely to gain acceptance in our time is 
one roughly analogous to the position taken by Theseus in 
A Midsummer Night's Dream: Shakespeare used Scripture as 
contemporary humanists used their classical allusions, to orna- 
ment a tale or to point to some abstract value. It was simply 
another way of giving a "habitation" and a "name" to something 
not readily apprehended by the senses. Scripture was familiar 
to his audiences; therefore Shakespeare used Scripture. This 
was one reason why he managed to be popular for as long 
as he did: he had his finger on the pulse of the audience; he 
himself was uncommitted. Modern interpreters frequently offer 
us something like this as the objective point of view the really 
"safe" onebut it leaves too much unexplained. For example, 
Miss Helen Gardner, who is well aware of the presence of 
typology in Elizabethan devotional literature, argues at some 
length that its importance in secular literature is negligible. 26 
She points to a flourishing interest in the literal sense of Scrip- 
ture, both in Shakespeare's time and earlier, and adds reveal- 
ingly, "Neither comedy nor tragedy can exist if the individual 
is only valued as illustrative of the general." 27 Of course, it is 
quite true that typology could, and occasionally did, degenerate 
into little more than an ingenious game of signs and illustrations; 
but genuine typology is never merely illustrative. A genuine 
typologist regards Scriptural history as sacramental and looks 
upon the individual in it as incorporating meaning rather than 
pointing to it; and consciously or unconsciously, Shakespeare 
was a genuine typologist in his use of Scriptural allusion and 
analogy. If he had used Scriptural material only in the way 
Miss Gardner thinks it possible for a poet to use such material, 
then his allusions to Adam, Cain, Abel, God, and Christ might 
have served merely as ornamental signs, illustrative examples, 


things to be seen through, pointers to something else. Actually, 
they seldom operate merely in this way. 

First, it should be noted that practically all of Shakespeare's 
allusions, like the allusions of any good poet, tend to earn their 
way in the context in which they appear. They extend the depth 
of the play itself; they do not merely point to depths outside the 
play in philosophy, theology, politics, or some other more 
abstract realm of knowledge. The critic who has the courage to 
remain in contact with Shakespeare's text usually finds that the 
resources of the metaphors operating within the play are difficult 
to exhaust. Instead of representing outlets into other realms, 
they are tributaries flowing in, so that whatever they bring to 
the play from other literatures or other disciplines becomes 
known in a new and unique way in the work of art itself. The 
result is indeed "transfigured so together" that it "More wit- 
nesseth than fancy's images, / And grows to something of great 
constancy." It is, in short, a kind of knowledge that defies re- 
statement in any other terms, but knowledge nevertheless 
"howsoever, strange and admirable." 

Shakespeare's references to the data of Elizabethan Christian- 
ity and his frequent recourse to Biblical analogies have in addi- 
tion to this ordinary power of metaphor the extraordinarily vital 
shaping power of typology. If we keep in mind that for 
Shakespeare's contemporaries everything in Scripture, doctrine, 
and Prayer Book has one subject onlythe eternal presence 
revealed to the full capacity of human understanding only once 
in history then we can begin to understand why a Scriptural 
reference in Shakespeare often seems to take control of that part 
of the play in which it appears, and sometimes even takes control 
of the entire play. All we need to do at this point is to allow 
Shakespeare creativity, however defined, and allow his Scriptural 
allusions vitality and power. The rest is demonstration, after 
which the reader may decide for himself. 

In this book the demonstration is focused principally upon 
twelve plays which, it is hoped, are as representative as any 
selection is likely to be of Shakespeare's mature work as a whole. 


The first four, Richard II, The Merchant of Venice, and the 
two parts of Henry IV (treated here in a single chapter) show 
how the Christian aspect emerged in the comedies and history 
plays that Shakespeare wrote between 1595 and 1600. The next 
two are "problem comedies" from the period of the tragedies. 
One of these, Measure for Measure, has had frequent public 
attention from Christian interpreters; the other, Troilus and 
Cressida, has had relatively little. 28 Between these and the 
treatment of four tragedies -Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, and 
Antony and Cleopatra I have included a brief chapter on the 
Christian interpretation of tragedy. My excuse for this inter- 
ruption is that it seemed better to answer certain general 
objections to the Christian interpretation of tragedy all in one 
place and leave the essays on individual tragedies to stand, if they 
could, on their own. The last two chapters deal with the so- 
called romances Cymbeline and The Winter's Tale, and to the 
second of these I have appended some brief remarks by way of 
summary and conclusion. 


HOWEVER ONE looks at it, Richard II seems to mark a kind 
of transition in Shakespeare's development as a dramatic poet. 
To his contemporaries it may very well have seemed a relatively 
tame performance after the exciting combination of historical 
material and Senecan villainy in Richard III and the lyrical 
movement of his sophisticated Romeo and Juliet. For us it is 
perhaps easier to see that Shakespeare had reached a terminus 
of sorts in both of these early plays. Romeo and Juliet is some- 
thing that we should not willingly part with, but we should be 
reluctant to acquire many more like it. For that matter, a play 
surpassing Romeo and Juliet in its kind almost defies the 
imagination. Of possible plays like Richard III, also perfect in 
its way, one specimen is quite enough. And so it is with plays 
like Comedy of 'Errors, Love's Labour's Lost, and Titus Androni- 
cus. Shakespeare, by the time he came to write Richard II, had 
proved that he was capable of achieving as much perfection as 
was desirable in several of the more important dramatic forms 
that his predecessors had sketched out. It remained for him to 
show that he had something new to offer, either by producing 
a startling innovation in form or by offering a new idea of drama. 
We can be grateful that he left the first of these alternatives to 


his younger contemporary Ben Jonson, whose surer sense of 
formal structure enabled him to produce innovations that found 
few imitators because he himself did all that could conceivably 
be done with them. Shakespeare's great contribution was the 
rediscovery of an ancient and all but forgotten path for drama. 
That he too had few followers is regrettable, but hardly his fault. 
Even now we come stumblingly to a definition of what it was he 
found. Tragedy, since Bradley, looms large in our eye, and we 
still tend to define Shakespeare's achievement in relation to 
that. The value of Richard II, we are sometimes tempted to 
say, lies in its anticipations of characterizations yet to come, 
Brutus, Hamlet, and Macbeth. So it does, but not exclusively 
there. What really sets this remarkable play sharply apart from 
Shakespeare's own earlier work and the work of his con- 
temporaries is an approach demonstrable in most of his later 
work quite without regard to formal classification which reveals 
Shakespeare clearly as a poet with a metaphysical turn of mind, 
capable of seeing the particular event both as something unique 
and as something participating in a universal web of analogy. 
We find next to nothing of this in the Henry VI plays, in 
Comedy of Errors, in Love's Labour's Lost, in Romeo and Juliet, 
or in Richard III, which, for all its slick dramaturgy, remains a 
play about Richard III, at its farthest conceivable extension a 
warning to would-be usurpers and tyrants. It is in Richard II, a 
play popularly and rightly famous for one passage in glorification 
of England, that Shakespeare manages for the first time to ex- 
tend his field of reference to include everybody. 

The kind of seeing which this new approach to material 
requires is illustrated in that scene in Act II in which the Queen 
betrays an inclination to see more in Richard's going to Ireland 
than a mere separation. Bushy, with more commonsense than 
foresight, tries to persuade the lady that simple sorrow has 
distorted her judgment and made her look upon perfectly normal 
situations as if they were ingenious trompes-l'oeil, 

. . . perspectives, which rightly gaz'd upon 
Show nothing but confusion, ey'd awry 


Distinguish form; so your sweet Majesty, 
Looking awry upon your lord's departure, 
Find shapes of grief, more than himself, to wail; 
Which, look'd on as it is, is nought but shadows 
Of what it is not. 


Bushy would have her look squarely at the event and accept it 
at face value. The Queen, however, is not easily comforted. 
"It may be so/' she replies; "but yet my inward soul / Persuades 
me it is otherwise." She happens to be right, of course; history 
makes her right. But Shakespeare gives her kind of vision at 
least as much vindication as history does. If we may believe 
some of the critics who have written about it, Richard II con- 
tains much that is unassimilated, contradictory, and without 
special significance. That is, if we look at the play "rightly," in 
Bushy's sense, we see in it at least a partial failure to achieve 
complete control over the historical materials. Nevertheless, if 
we take a hint from Richard's Queen and eye the play awry (as, 
for example, in our recollection of it), it has a way of subtly 
distinguishing a form that tends to pull all the seemingly 
irrelevant parts together and make the whole meaningful as no 
chronicle before it, dramatic or nondramatic, had ever been. 

Some writers have attributed this "informed quality" of 
Richard II to Shakespeare's conscious or unconscious depend- 
ence upon an analogy with ritual. Among those who have 
acknowledged the importance of ceremony and ritual in the 
play is E. M. W. Tillyard, who devotes several illuminating 
pages of his Shakespeare's History Plays to the matter; 1 but 
Tillyard sees ceremony only as part of the data of the play, 
an attribute of Richard and his medieval kingship, which Boling- 
broke is about to destroy. One might say that Tillyard looks 
at the play "rightly," in Bushy's sense. J. Dover Wilson, on 
the other hand, following some remarks by Walter Pater, has 
observed in his edition that Richard II stands so remarkably 
close to the Catholic service of the Mass that it ought to be 
played throughout as ritual. 2 Hardier critics than Wilson have 


gone still farther and made out cases for relating the play to 
ancient fertility rites, some of which, like their Christian 
counterparts, present remarkably close analogies with this play. 
For example, of the four types of fertility ritual in which F. M. 
Cornford found a significant tendency toward drama, 3 three 
show a resemblance to the action of Richard II which is too 
striking to be ignored. In one of these, which Cornford calls 
"The Carrying out of Death/' the sin of a whole kingdom is 
symbolically purged with the death of a single victim. In 
another, "The Fight of Summer and Winter/' winter personified 
as an evil antagonist is defeated by the representative of summer. 
In a third, perhaps the most suggestive of all, the old king, or 
old year, having grown evil through decay, is deposed and re- 
placed by the new. 

Suggestive as all these examples of ritual are, however, they 
have no discernible connection with plays of the Elizabethan 
theater; for as far as responsible investigators have been able to 
tell, the theater which Shakespeare inherited was a lineal 
descendant of neither folk rite nor Christian ritual. It is much 
more sensible to explain whatever ritual movement we find in 
Richard II as something Shakespeare himself achieved partly by 
analogy with existing ritual perhaps, but achieved by himself in 
the process of shaping a particular event from chronicle history 
into a living poetic symbol. In that sense, it may be said that 
he imported into English drama something that it had not 
inherited legitimately or, to revert to our first metaphor, he 
rediscovered for drama an almost forgotten path, impossible for 
most but vastly rewarding for those few capable of using it. The 
question to be asked and answered is, how did he happen to 
stumble upon it? One cannot answer such a question with 
finality. Shakespeare's own profound sense of analogy must, of 
course, provide nine-tenths of any answer anyone might suggest; 
and the presence in England of a powerful Christian ritual, 
revitalized by half a century of intermittently vigorous opposi- 
tion, certainly had something to do with it. But in addition 
to these aspects of Shakespeare's achievement, one other, related 


to both and yet isolable in its own right, commands attention; 
and this is his persistent use of Biblical story as analog for his 
secular fable. In Richard II this aspect confronts us from be- 
ginning to end. 

The most obvious manifestation of it is the identification of 
Richard with Christ, which happens to be a historical one. 
Shakespeare makes explicit use of it first in Act III, when he 
makes Richard refer to Bushy, Bagot, and Green as "Three 
Judases, each one thrice worse than Judas!" (III.ii.132). In Act 
IV, of course, there is considerably more of this sort of thing. 
There the Bishop of Carlisle warns that if Bolingbroke ascends 
the throne, England shall be called "The field of Golgotha and 
dead men's skulls" (IV.i.144). And Richard observes of Boling- 
broke's supporters: 

... I well remember 

The favours of these men. Were they not mine? 
Did they not sometime cry, "All hail!" to me? 
So Judas did to Christ; but He, in twelve, 
Found truth in all but one; I, in twelve 

thousand, none. 

A bit farther on he calls his enemies by another name: 

. . . some of you with Pilate wash your hands 
Showing an outward pity; yet you Pilates 
Have here delivered me to my sour cross, 
And water cannot wash away your sin. 


This set of allusions, familiar even to casual students of the 
play, serves admirably to point up Richard's own view of the 
situation and also to underline effectively the official Elizabethan 
view that (in the language of the Homilies) "The violence and 
injury that is committed against authority is committed against 
God/' 4 A second set of allusions, equally familiar, begins with 


Gaunt's reference to "This other Eden, demi-paradise," which 
gets its proper qualification somewhat later in the Garden scene 
of Act III, when the Gardener's man describes England as a 
"sea-walled garden" choked with weeds and the Gardener him- 
self receives the Queen's rebuke for presuming to accuse Richard 
of negligence: 

Thou, old Adam's likeness, set to dress this garden, 
How dares thy harsh rude tongue sound this 

unpleasing news? 

What Eve, what serpent, hath suggested thee 
To make a second fall of cursed man? 


Here with these allusions a second attitude, not exclusively 
Elizabethan, is underscored: that the king, as himself man, is 
responsible to God for the right use of sovereignty, both by 
defending true religion and the honest subject and by punishing 
the wicked. 

Taken together, these two sets of allusions give us a double 
image of Richard Richard microchristus and Richard micro- 
cosmos, Richard the Lord's Anointed and Richard Everyman. 
This, of course, is simply the conventional Elizabethan double 
image of kingship and would not of itself be particularly startling 
were it not for the additional suggestion of a pattern that unfolds 
as the play proceeds. The Golgotha of which Carlisle speaks 
does indeed come to pass. Richard rides to London with many 
to throw dust upon his head but none to cry, "God save him!" 
Despised and rejected, he languishes at Pomfret, only to face 
his executioners with such a manifestation of regality in death 
that Exton, like the centurion at the foot of the cross (who said 
of Jesus, "Truly this man was the Son of God." cf. Matthew 
xxvn.54 and Mark xv.39), is compelled to acknowledge it: 

As full of valour as of royal blood! 

Both have I spill'd; O would the deed were good! 


For now the devil, that told me I did well, 
Says that this deed is chronicled in hell. 


Even Bolingbroke, to whom Richard alive was a "living fear/' 
is moved to say: 

Though I did wish him dead, 
I hate the murderer, love him murdered. 


The twentieth-century reader is apt to miss the full significance 
of all this. Undoubtedly a great many Elizabethans, who were 
long accustomed to seeing typological interpretations of Biblical 
history, saw in this presentation of Richard as a sort of Adam- 
Christ a typological interpretation of their own national history. 
In Scripture the fall and death of the First Adam is corrected 
and atoned for by the sacrificial death of the Second (see Ro- 
mans v.l 2-21). That is, Adam's disobedience and death is an 
anticipatory realization of a pattern that achieved its complete 
historical realization only in the perfect obedience and death 
of Jesus of Nazareth, with whose resurrection a way was cleared 
for Adam (and all those who had sinned in Adam) to escape 
the full consequences of death. From the typologist's point of 
view this pattern, perfectly symbolized by one Adam's atone- 
ment for the other's sin, is the eternal principle of which all 
history is in one way or another but the spelling out. Whether 
he realized it or not at the time, Shakespeare, in laying the 
outlines of such a complex and richly suggestive symbol against 
the surface of his chronicle material, had given to secular fable 
a significance that it had achieved only rarely in drama since 
the days of Aeschylus and Sophocles. To paraphrase Dryden, 
he had affected the metaphysical in his treatment of it. More- 
over, having underscored that revolutionary affectation by utiliz- 
ing ceremonial in his play, by representing ceremonially much 
that was not strictly ceremony, and by frequently alluding to 


the symbolic substance of analogous pagan ritual (sun and ice, 
summer and winter, etc.), he had also produced a work which 
"eyed awry" presents a ritualistic analogy with the sacrifice on 
the cross. 

Seeing a ritualistic aspect in a play, however, is not the same 
as identifying it with ritual or attempting to play it as ritual. To 
see Richard as a ritual type of Adam-Christ is certainly warranted 
by Shakespeare's text, but to see him exclusively as that is to 
see Bolingbroke exclusively as Satan-Judas; and this is certainly 
not warranted by the text. The leading question of the play is 
not simply "What is true kingship?" but "What is the true 
king? What is the Lord's Anointed?" Mere ritual is powerless 
to answer this question, and history and the Homilies do little 
better. Shakespeare could expect his audience to know the 
report of history that both Richard and the Lancastrian usurper 
in their turns possessed the title of "Lord's Anointed" and could 
expect them accordingly to stand with Gaunt when he says 
ruefully near the beginning of the play: 

God's is the quarrel; for God's substitute, 
His deputy anointed in His sight, 
Hath caus'd his death; the which if wrongfully, 
Let Heaven revenge. 


He could assume that the judgment of York on Bolingbroke in 
Act II would be accepted as appropriate by loyal Englishmen 

My lords of England, let me tell you this: 
I have had feeling of my cousin's wrongs 
And labour'd all I could to do him right; 
But in this kind to come, in braving arms, 
Be his own carver and cut out his way, 
To find out right with wrong it may not be; 
And you that do abet him in this kind 
Cherish rebellion and are rebels all. 



Similarly, he could let York's pained acquiescence in Boling- 
broke's accession to the throne serve as an appropriate public 
moral for the play as a whole: "Heaven hath a hand in these 
events, / To whose high will we bow our calm contents" 
(V.ii. 37-38). Yet there is something less than a martyr's ac- 
quiescence in Richard's famous metaphor for the historic turn- 

Now is this golden crown like a deep well 
That owes two buckets, filling one another, 
The emptier ever dancing in the air, 
The other down, unseen, and full of water. 
That bucket down and full of tears am I, 
Drinking my griefs, whilst you mount up on high. 


The conclusion startles Bolingbroke into saying, "I thought you 
had been willing to resign/' And Richard replies with three lines 
that would be uncomfortably out of place in a play reduced to 
the level of ritual: 

My crown I am; but still my griefs are mine. 
You may my glories and my state depose, 
But not my griefs; still am I king of those. 

Here Richard is undoubtedly already thinking of himself as a 
betrayed and repudiated Christ, moving ahead to a sour cross 
while the Pilates stand about washing their hands. The role 
evidently delights him, and he plays it well. Nevertheless, we 
should notice that the role is one he has himself discovered, 
not one that has come looking for him. We should also notice 
that Shakespeare cast Richard initially in quite another role, 
which he plays equally well, in spite of himself, and which 
temporarily at least disqualifies him as a spotless victim. 

The Richard that Shakespeare sets before us at the beginning 
of the play is not only God's Anointed but a man guilty, 
ultimately if not directly, of his uncle's death. He knows that 


no one has proved his guilt, and he thinks that no one, except 
Aumerle of course, knows exactly what the details of Wood- 
stock's death were. Yet Bolingbroke, in the very first scene, 
pronounces the murdered man Abel and his murderer by impli- 
cation Cain: 

. . . like a traitor coward, 
Sluic'd out his innocent soul through streams 

of blood; 

Which blood, like sacrificing Abel's, cries, 
Even from the tongueless caverns of the earth, 
To me for justice and rough chastisement; 
And, by the glorious worth of my descent, 
This arm shall do it, or this life be spent. 


What Bolingbroke does not realize is that his condemnation and 
threat of revenge, hurled at the innocent Mowbray, are applic- 
able only to Richard. The Cain he really seeks, however unwit- 
tingly, sits on the throne before him and wears the robes of the 
Lord's Anointed. And ironic as this situation is, it becomes even 
more ironic when we think of the ancient identification of Abel 
with Christ and of Cain with the disbelieving Jews who slew 
him. In Shakespeare's time there was nothing particularly 
esoteric about such an identification. The New Testament 
provides ample authority for it (Matthew xxin.25 and Hebrews 
xi.4; xn.24); there is a reference to it in the Canon of the Mass; 
and frequent use of it is made in the writings of the Church 
Fathers. 5 Among Shakespeare's audience there must have been 
at least a few who had encountered it in contemporary exegetical 
works and a great many who knew about it from pictorial 
representations in the familiar Biblia Pauperum. Yet even if the 
identification of Richard-Christ with Richard-Cain escaped the 
audience entirely, the primary application of Bolingbroke's 
allusion to the story of Cain and Abel could hardly have escaped 
them. They all knew well enough what had happened to 
Woodstock and who was directly responsible for it, and they 


could not have missed the implication that Richard secretly 
bore the curse of Cain. A second allusion to the murder of 
Woodstock, however, completes the identification. It is Gaunt 
who makes this one: 

O, spare me not, my brother Edward's son, 
For that I was his father Edward's son, 
That blood already, like the pelican, 
Hast thou tapp'd out and drunkenly carous'd. 


Here we have one of our oldest symbols for the Saviour, the 
pelican mother who feeds the young with her own blood, 
inverted by Gaunt to make an accusation against the young 
king. That is, Richard, who should have been the parent pelican 
of the figure, prepared to nourish his brood with his own life 
if need be, is here accused of having caroused on the blood of 
another (Woodstock). Perhaps Shakespeare's audience missed 
this allusion too. No one can say for sure about that. The 
important point is that Shakespeare put it there; and with it the 
chain of analogies, as Shakespeare conceived it, seems complete: 
Richard-Christ-antichrist-Cain, all are linked as one. 

But what of Bolingbroke, who also assumes the role of the 
Lord's Anointed before the play is complete? After Cain had 
killed his brother, God put his mark on the fugitive murderer 
and decreed that no vengeance should be taken upon him. The 
traditional Christian explanation for God's prohibition against 
revenge in this case was that satisfaction for Abel's blood was 
to be expected only with the advent of "Jesus, the mediator of 
the new covenant, and . . . the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh 
better things than that of Abel" (Hebrews xn.24). Bolingbroke, 
in proclaiming himself the avenger of a murdered Abel, was 
using a figure of speech, to be sure, but he was nevertheless 
presuming to make right in his own way something that mere 
man can never make right. In other words, he was presuming 
to do something that even as microchristus he could not expect 


to accomplish without committing the same sin he would 
avenge. The place of Bolingbroke in the action of the play is 
perhaps clear enough without the use of Biblical allusion, but 
such allusion can help us state it: Bolingbroke's story is that of 
a man who sets out to slay the murderer Cain and does so, only 
to find that he himself has the blood of Abel on his hands. 

Richard II, then, if it is to be compared to ritual, must be 
compared to some of the pagan rituals we know, and not to any 
Christian ritual. The allusions point to a clear, unambiguous 
analogy with Christ for neither of the principals. Each is a 
microchristus with a specifically human blind spot, a failure to 
see that human kingship, unlike the divine kingship of Christ, 
involves both a crown and a potential Cain who wears the crown. 
Each discovers, among other things, that the crown is never 
enough to make the wearer immune to the consequences of 
being human, but each finds in his turn that the crown can be 
an eloquent teacher. The crown is a well of instruction, and 
Richard gets his in the process of descending. From the moment 
he sets foot on English soil after his return from Ireland, he 
alternately gropes for and rejects the knowledge which he fully 
possesses only in the hour of his death at Pomfret There, 
breeding thoughts, setting Scripture against Scripture, and 
imaginatively assuming and repudiating all sorts and conditions 
of mankind, he comes at last to the flat truth, 

Nor I nor any man that but man is 

With nothing shall be pleas'd, till he be eas'd 

With being nothing. 


The irony of this moment is that here in the recognition of 
his physical weakness and his human need for humility Richard 
poses his greatest threat to Bolingbroke, who at almost the same 
time receives a similar enlightenment on the way up. Up to the 
moment of his coronation Bolingbroke has never once thought 
of the terrifying efficacy that regal power confers upon human 


impulses. As Bolingbroke he could wish Richard dead and 
bury the guilt of the wish in his own soul. As Henry he must 
learn that even a whispered wish is a powerful command. That 
he wished Richard dead is now enough to make Richard dead, 
and the blood of Richard is upon him. Turning upon Pierce of 
Exton, who held the actual dagger, he condemns him in the 
words of innocent Mowbray: 

With Cain go wander through the shades of night, 
And never show thy head by day nor light. 


But the Mowbray who once left England "To dwell in solemn 
shades of endless night" (I.iii.177) now rests in Abraham's 
bosom and was never Cain. The two lines that follow are at 
once sober and plaintive: 

Lords, I protest, my soul is full of woe 

That blood should sprinkle me to make me grow. 

And with these lines we come full circle. The great Biblical- 
metaphysical framework of allusion that began with Boling- 
broke's reference to the murder of Abel has encompassed the 
fable and returned to its starting point. We can now state the 
questions of the play in terms of the analogies that define them: 
Who is the Cain? Who, the Christ? Can one avenge Abel 
without becoming Cain? Can Cain dwell with Christ in the 
same golden well? 

Such questions as these inevitably arise whenever a great 
dramatic poet lays the relatively clear-cut distinctions of mythic 
pattern against the disorderly flux of human affairs. It makes 
little difference whether the poet particularizes his myth and so 
brings it to the status of history (as the Greeks frequently did) 
or brings to the particularity of chronicle history the outlines of 
a more ancient imitation. The result is the same. In either case 
we find good and evil, innocence and guilt, so inextricably mixed 


that human ingenuity cannot say where the dividing line is. As 
in the ancient fertility rites, we tend to find slayer and slain, old 
king and new king, Cain and Christ, united in one human 
frame. There is no other solution in purely human terms. And 
the bewildered protagonist who suddenly sees the unresolvable 
paradox in his human situation can only cry out, as Bolingbroke 

Lords, I protest, my soul is full of woe 

That blood should sprinkle me to make me grow. 



HERE is no doubt about the relevance of Christian materials 
to The Merchant of Venice. A child with a set of Bible verses 
and the memory of his confirmation class could establish that. 
But there has always been doubt in the minds of many readers 
about the essential Christianity of the play. Even those who 
are ready to excuse the "inhuman" treatment of Shylock on 
historical grounds tend to find something uncomfortably pious 
about Antonio and Portia and stop short of accepting Bassanio, 
who has scarcely grown out of his adolescent irresponsibility 
by the time the play has ended. Some modern readers find the 
play palatable because they can take it as a serious sociological 
document; but most, one suspects, prefer to regard it simply as 
a romantic excursion in which Shakespeare wandered discon- 
certingly out of his depth, digging up muddy issues which he 
might better have dealt with in other plays. Most find it safest 
to read The Merchant of Venice as a gorgeously caparisoned 
puppet show, in which a collection of fragile dolls toy super- 
ficially and gracefully with the themes of love and friendship 
and move to a musical close, at which happy point the sooty 
ogre of the preceding acts can be forgotten because he has been 
laid away lifeless in his chest to await the next performance. 


Yet there have always been those who insist, in spite of the 
difficulties, on taking the play seriously, all the way through 
from beginning to end, forgetting nothing and rejecting nothing. 
One of these was Sir Israel Gollancz, who in some delightfully 
informal essays, brought together for publication after his death, 
justified the play as a Christian allegory after the manner of the 
late medieval morality plays. 1 Gollancz cited two texts as funda- 
mental to the interpretation of the play. The first, "Greater love 
hath no man than this, that a man should lay down his life for 
his friend" (John xv.13), relates obviously to the business of the 
bond; and the second, taken from Ephesians, "Christ also loved 
the Church and gave himself for it" (Ephesians v.25), has in 
addition some applicability to the love making, the caskets, 
and Portia's successful attempt to resolve the moral indebted- 
ness of her husband. Along with J. D. Rea and Hope Traver, 
Gollancz also saw the bond element of the story as deriving 
from the medieval versions of the debate of the four heavenly 
daughters (based on Psalm LXXXV) and the medieval stories 
about Satan's arraignment of the Redeemer. 2 He hesitated, 
however, to give Shakespeare full credit for writing an allegory 
on Christian themes and suggested that the two distinguishable 
parts of the play the bond story and the story of the caskets 
had been fused and perhaps interpreted together as Christian 
allegories by Shakespeare's anonymous predecessor, who, accord- 
ing to Stephen Gosson's report in 1579, wrote a play called The 
Jew "representing the greediness of worldly chusers, and the 
bloody mindes of Usurers." 

About the extent of Shakespeare's indebtedness to an earlier 
play we cannot be sure, since we have only Gosson's ambiguous 
report and no trace of a play to go by. This much, however, is 
sure: the play which we do have is a demonstrably Shakespearean 
entity from first to last. If Shakespeare worked from another 
play, as he frequently did, he here reworked pretty thoroughly 
and deserves the credit, or responsibility, for the distinctly 
Christian aura that hangs about this play. In any case, the aura 
is what concerns us here, and of that there cannot be much 


serious doubt. Benjamin N. Nelson, acknowledging Gollancz's 
work, finds that it makes the play a minor document in the 
history of the idea of usury. "Antonio's heroic suretyship to 
Shylock for Bassanio," he writes, "finds its prototype in Christ's 
act in serving as 'ransom' to the Devil for all mankind/' 3 And 
Nevill Coghill, who has undertaken to develop some of the 
implications in Gollancz's essays about the medieval background 
of The Merchant, has found the play more fundamentally 
Christian even than its medieval prototypes. Coghill describes 
the play as "an exemplum in modern dress" on the theme of 
Justice and Mercy, the Old Law and the New; it asserts the 
Tightness of both principles, be believes, and the need for some 
sort of compromise between them justice yielding a little to 
mercy, and mercy yielding a little to justice. 4 Probably for most 
readers Coghill has gone as far as is desirable toward pronouncing 
the theme of the play Christian; yet we can agree with all that 
he has said, and with all that Gollancz and the others have said, 
and still hold that the Christianity of the play is largely fortui- 
tous. After all, there are not many themes that cannot be 
accommodated to Christian dogma in one way or another; and 
the themes in The Merchant of Venice were so accommodated 
long before Shakespeare got hold of them. 

One might, for example, point to the moralized versions of 
the casket and bond stories in the Gesta Romanorum. 5 The 
moralized version of the bond story, it is true, never found its 
way into any of the English printed versions of the Gesta, but it 
does appear in an English manuscript version of the fifteenth 
century and in other versions printed elsewhere. According to 
the "Moralitee" of this story, the Emperor (corresponding to 
Portia's dead father) is Jesus Christ, the daughter (Portia) is 
"the sowle I-made to the similitude of god," the young suitor 
is Everyman, and the merchant is the Devil. The meaning of 
the daughter's action to save her husband is given as follows: 
"we shulde caste fro vs the olde lyf and cloj>e vs with a newe, 
soil, goode vertuys, and assende vpon the palfrey of Resoune, 
and so go forthe to holy chirche, & pere pray god wit/i a fulle 


herte, & allegge ayenst f>e devil, that he sle vs not, by cause that 
god bowte vs." 6 The casket story was moralized in Richard 
Robinson's several editions of the Gesta, one of which probably 
served Shakespeare as a source. There we find that "By the 
third vessell of lead full of golde and precious stones, we ought 
to vnderstand a simple life and a poore, which the chosen men 
choose, that they may be wedded to our blessed Lorde Jesu 
Christ by humilitie and obeysance, and such men beare with 
them precious stones, that is to saye, faith and hir fruitfull 
workes, pleasinge to God: by the which at the iudgement day 
they be espoused to our Lord Jesu Christ and obtaine the 
heritage of heauen, vnto the which bring vs he that dyed on 
the Crosse." 7 Such quotations as these, however, suggest only 
that Shakespeare could not have been unaware that Christian 
implications had been found in his materials for The Merchant 
of Venice. In themselves they prove nothing about the Christian 
implications of the material as "transfigured together" within 
the play. 

We need go no farther than Ser Giovanni Fiorentino's II 
Pecorone, very likely Shakespeare's immediate source for the 
bond story, to find a version later than the Gesta which is not 
moralized at all. 8 The Emperor, who served in the Gesta as a 
figure of Christ, has disappeared altogether. To the young lover 
(who originally borrowed the money and also wooed the lady) 
has been added a bondsman, giving us the two men and the 
theme of friendship as we have them in Shakespeare. In addi- 
tion, we have also the business of the ring, which business, for 
reasons we shall consider presently, Shakespeare doubled. These 
changes bring us a long way from the stodgy morality of the 
Gesta version toward the seemingly free and easy account that 
we find in Shakespeare and suggest that the immediate back- 
ground for the core of Shakespeare's story was romantic and 
secular and only distantly and collaterally related to such things 
as Piers Plowman and The Castle of Perseverance. The proper 
conclusion would seem to be, as we frequently find it in intro- 
ductions and commentaries, that Shakespeare completed the 


secularization of a medieval moral exemplum. In at least one 
respect, however, Shakespeare himself seems to have forestalled 
this conclusion. The bondsman of II Pecorone (Shakespeare's 
Antonio) helps bring the story to a satisfactory romantic con- 
clusion by joining hands with the Lady of Belmont's maid-in- 
waiting (Shakespeare's Nerissa) to make a double wedding. In 
The Merchant of Venice Shakespeare, for reasons that must 
seem obvious to interpreters like Gollancz and Coghill, keeps 
Antonio single and clinches his bachelorhood by bringing in a 
third male principal, Gratiano, to take the hand of Nerissa. 

The Renaissance doctrine of friendship, which like the Pla- 
tonic doctrine from which it is derived exalts love between 
friends over love between man and woman, does not fully 
account for what happens here. It is quite understandable in 
terms of such a doctrine that Antonio, as a Renaissance gentle- 
man bound in friendship to Bassanio, should "only love the 
world for him" (II.viii.50). It is also understandable that Portia 
should high-mindedly forgo jealousy and recognize an obliga- 
tion upon herself to preserve her husband's "higher love" at 
all costs. The terms in which she expresses her attitude in this 
matter are as precisely Neoplatonic as one could wish: 

I never did repent for doing good, 
Nor shall not now: for in companions 
That do converse and waste the time together, 
Whose souls so bear an egal yoke of love, 
There must be needs a like proportion 
Of lineaments, of manners, and of spirit; 
Which makes me think that this Antonio, 
Being the bosom lover of my lord, 
Must needs be like my lord. If it be so, 
How little is the cost I have bestow'd 
In purchasing the semblance of my soul 
From out the state of hellish cruelty! 


Yet by the time that Portia says these lines, the possibility 
that we are not to take the relation between Antonio and 


Bassanio as exclusively the conventional Neoplatonic one has 
already been introduced into the play. Gollancz, Nelson, and 
Coghill, who have all seen Antonio as a figure of Christ, the 
perfect friend who so loved man that he gave himself for him, 
may be accused of unwarranted spiritualizing or allegorizing; 
but the analogy that leads them on is substantially supported by 
Antonio's letter, which Bassanio reads aloud to Portia at the 
close of the second scene in Act III: 

Sweet Bassanio, my ships have all miscarried, 
my creditors grow cruel, my estate is very low, 
my bond to the Jew is forfeit; and since in pay- 
ing it, it is impossible I should live, all debts are 
cleared between you and I, if I might but see 
you at my death. Notwithstanding, use your 
pleasure; if your love do not persuade you to 
come, let not my letter. 


We might dismiss as something demanded by the plot Antonio's 
observation, "my bond to the Jew is forfeit; and ... in paying 
it, it is impossible I should live." Nevertheless, it would be 
difficult to find in all the Renaissance literary examples of perfect 
friendship a neater statement of a neater parallel to Christ's 
voluntary assumption of the debt that was death to repay. And 
one does not find among such examples a satisfactory parallel to 
Antonio's demand upon Bassanio, which follows immediately: 
"all debts are cleared between you and I, if I might but see you 
at my death." Here we are beyond Platonism and completely 
within the realm of Christian dogma, which holds that the 
sinner is not ransomed by the death of the Saviour unless he 
witnesses that death furthermore, that he is not ransomed 
unless he witnesses it willingly and out of love for the Redeemer: 
"Notwithstanding, use your pleasure; if your love do not persuade 
you to come, let not my letter." 9 

Antonio is not following a Platonic code of friendship here, 
for that would have required him to show more consideration for 


Bassanio's sensibilities. Strictly speaking, he is not even behaving 
like a Christian, for a Christian is commanded to forgive his 
debtors and forget the debt. Antonio is saying, in excusable 
contradiction to all acceptable codes for human behavior, "I will 
excuse your debt if you will witness my execution. Come and 
be present at my death, if you love me/' And this is the invita- 
tion that only Christ properly extends, to the discomfort of many 
Christians, who turn away at the sight of the cross and grow 
weary at the thought of trying to repay in love a debt that can 
never be repaid, in equity or in kind. The parallel continues 
throughout the trial scene in Act IV. To the Duke, who feels 
sorry for Antonio's predicament, Antonio says: 

. . . since he stands obdurate 
And that no lawful means can carry me 
Out of his envy's reach, I do oppose 
My patience to his fury, and am arm'd 
To suffer, with a quietness of spirit 
The very tyranny and rage of his. 


To Bassanio he says: 

I am a tainted wether of the flock, 

Meetest for death. The weakest kind of fruit 

Drops earliest to the ground, and so let me. 


Beyond this, of course, the play does not press the parallel 
between Antonio and a sacrificial victim. It does not show an 
actual death, or even the shedding of blood; but it does show 
an Antonio, snatched from the shadow of death, translated into 
Belmont, where, unlike his prototype in II Pecorone, he remains 
the good friend, single, and uncommitted to any other human 
attachment. If Shakespeare at any point in composing this play 
saw typological significance in Antonio, the odds are that he 
deliberately departed from his source here in order to maintain 
it to the end. 


Taking Antonio as a figure of Christ, however, raises the 
question of what to do with Portia; for in the Gesta version of 
the casket story Portia is the Christ, "which the chosen men 
choose/' and in the bond story she is the "daughter" of Christ, 
"the sowle I-made to the similitude of god/ 7 A good deal of 
this is retained in The Merchant of Venice. As the rtince of 
Morocco so eloquently testifies, Portia is the bride whom all the 
world desires: "From the four corners of the earth they come / 
To kiss this shrine, this mortal-breathing saint" (Il.vii. 39-40). 
But, more importantly, she is the bride-intended only for the 
elect "O me, the word choose!" she complains to Ner^sa. 
"I may neither choose who I would nor refuse who I dislike." 
Nerissa's reply could stand for the reply of almost any theologian, 
Calvinist or Catholic, to a catechumen disturbed by the doctrine 
of election: 

Your father was ever virtuous, and holy men 
at their death have good inspirations; therefore 
the lott'ry that he hath devised in these three 
chests of gold, silver, and lead, whereof who 
chooses his meaning chooses you, will, no 
doubt, never be chosen by any rightly but one 
who you shall rightly love. 


And, indeed, when the casket story reaches its climax, we are 
hard put to say who really does choose, so ardent are they both, 
Bassanio and Portia, in desiring one another. When she dis- 
covers, however, that her husband is not really free and cannot 
be hers until Antonio's debt is paid, she offers "To pay the 
petty debt twenty times over," and sends him away with "Since 
you are dear bought, I will love you dear." 

At first glance it might seem simpler to leave Portia's analogy 
with Christ at this. She is Bassanio's bride, and her function, 
as Jessica puts it, is to make it possible that "The Lord Bassanio 
live an upright life; / For, having such a blessing in his lady, / He 
finds the joys of heaven here on earth" (III.v. 79-81). Yet, 


unless we are careful, taking such a limited view of Portia's 
part in the play will put us in the position of regarding her 
performance at the trial as an interesting irrelevance. The at- 
tempt to see an analogy between her role there and Mercy as 
abstractly represented in the old debate of the Four Heavenly 
Daughters only makes matters worse; for, in spite of the obvious 
relevance of the Four Daughters story to the trial scene, that 
story^in the form in which we usually encounter it obscures 
rather than clarifies the action of the play as a whole. From start 
to finish The Merchant of Venice is a play about the restoration 
of Bassanio; and for as long as we take time out to think of Portia 
as a representative of mercy in opposition to Shylock's justice, 
we are really thinking of the play as if Antonio were at the center 
rather than Bassanio. Furthermore, we are running the risk of 
disenchantment when Portia finally wins, not with mercy, but 
with a legalistic trick. The triumph of mercy in this play comes 
not in Act IV but in the disposition of Bassanio in Act V, where 
a young man who has seemingly deserved nothing at last comes 
to merit and get everything, all because two people love him and 
are willing to give and hazard all they have for him. What we 
need to keep clearly in mind throughout the trial scene is that 
Portia is as much Bassanio's savior as Antonio is. Her whole 
objective in coming to the trial, as her trick about the ring at 
the close of that scene shows, is to snare Bassanio, her means 
is to rescue Antonio from Shylock's grasp, and her reason for 
tolerating in "godlike amity" Antonio's claim upon her hus- 
band's affections is that she sees in Antonio the image of herself. 
As she tells Lorenzo, who has no inkling of what she is about 
to do, 


Being the bosom lover of my lord, 

Must needs be like my lord. If it be so, 

How little is the cost I have bestow'd 

In purchasing the semblance of my soul 

From out the state of hellish cruelty! 



Antonio, as the play has it, is saved principally for the sake of 
Bassanio. For without Antonio's initial willingness to give him- 
self, Bassanio could never have come to the lady in the first 
place; and without the lady's willingness to rescue Antonio from 
the consequences of his awful hazard, Bassanio, untested by the 
lady's device at the trial, would have remained unregenerate, 
simply another adventurer, not worth much to anybody. 

-The debate of the Heavenly Daughters, however, can help 
us understand Portia's part in the play provided we do not lean 
exclusively on late medieval representations of it. In the year of 
Shakespeare's death the Anglican John Boys published an exposi- 
tion of Psalm LXXXV, proper for Christmas Day morning prayer, 
which is much more relevant to The Merchant of Venice than 
are Piers Plowman and The Castle of Perseverance. Boys begins 
with the traditional explanation: 

In Christ aduent, Mercy and truth are met together, righteousnesse 
and peace haue kissed each other. Bernard hath a prettie dialogue 
to his purpose, betweene righteousnesse and truth on the one side, 
mercy and peace on the other part, contending about the redemption 
of mankinde. Christ our blessed Messias and Mediator ended the 
quarrell at his coining, and made them all exceeding kinde kissing 
friends: for in giuing himself e a ransome for all men, he did at once 
pay both vnto lustice her debt, and grant vnto Mercy her desire. 10 

Then he proceeds to amplify, first, with the suggestion that 
Coghill worked into his interpretation of The Merchant: "Right- 
eousness and peace meet in Christ, God and man: for by these 
two, some Diuines vnderstand the Old Testament and the 
New." After this, Boys advances a totally new suggestion, which 
illuminates the play better than any other that has been made 
so far: 

Or by these two vertues vnderstand Christs two natures, his 
diuine nature by mercie, hauing power to forgiue sinnes, and to 
heale all manner of sicknesse: by truth his humane nature. . . . And 
this exposition is more probable by the next verse [Psalm Lxxxv.ll]: 


Truth shall flourish out of the earth, and righteousnesse hath looked 
down -from heauen. Christ is truth, as he saith of himselfe, I am the 
way, the truth, &c. and Christ is our righteousnesse, I Corinth. 1.30. 
Now Christ as man, and borne of the Virgin Mary, budded out of 
the earth: and as God, he looked down from heauen. That men 
might be Justified by grace from heauen, it pleased him on this day 
to bud out of the earth 11 

As soon as one looks beyond the simple labels righteousness-truth 
and peace-mercy (as applied respectively to Shylock and Portia) 
and sees in the trial scene a demonstration of two aspects of a 
single motive working to bring about the salvation of a single 
unworthy sinner, one is in a fair way to understand and accept 
the whole play. Whether or not one accepts as relevant the 
analogy suggested by Boys' exposition (Antonio representing 
Christ's physical nature, which offered a physical body as sacri- 
fice; and Portia representing Christ's divine nature, offering for- 
giveness), one is almost bound, it seems to me, to accept the 
functional identity of Antonio and Portia. They are united in 
opposition to Shylock and united in their effort to claim Bassanio 
for their side; they are united, moreover, in their method, which, 
as John R. Brown has pointed out in his recent edition of the 
play, 12 is that of "giving and hazarding" all they have and expect- 
ing nothing in return. They are opposed, however, as truth and 
mercy are opposed, or as any two halves of a whole may be said 
to be opposed. Each is a partial manifestation of what, according 
to the Christian idea of human regeneration, it takes to save a 
man. Antonio's friendship, offering living flesh and blood as 
payment for what is really his friend's debt, cannot of itself make 
Bassanio whole. And Portia's generous offer of undivided love, 
to say nothing of her magnificent dowry, can only be disastrous 
to him; for, amiable as he is, Bassanio before the first scene is 
over is already established as one who habitually draws on the 
generosity of others. He means well enough, but he means well 
primarily for himself. It takes both friend and bride, working 
together, each for the other and jointly for Bassanio, to bring 
about a transformation in the young man, and it takes all of 


five acts to do it in. The reconciliation of truth and mercy 
whereby they achieve their aim does not seriously involve Shy- 
lock. To be sure, he provides the contextual occasion for that 
reconciliation, but the reconciliation itself is between Antonio 
and Portia; and the focus of the reconciliation is in Bassanio 
and for his sake. 

Criticism has struggled with Bassanio for a long time, the 
problem being to justify the interest that Antonio and Portia 
take in him. So far the best explanations have said in effect that, 
since Portia and Antonio find him worthy, he must somehow 
surely be worthy. That is, they take Bassanio on faith. This 
is undoubtedly part of the answer, but it needs amplification. 
In the beginning Bassanio appears to his saviors to be worth 
saving, not because he has done anything to deserve saving, 
but because he bears within him their own image. This reason 
is mildly embarrassing to Portia, who sums it up beautifully in 
the passage already quoted in which she tells Lorenzo that she 
loves Antonio because, being Bassanio's friend, he must be like 
Bassanio and therefore like herself. But, she adds modestly, 
"This comes too near the praising of myself, / Therefore no 
more of it." Her reason, however, has also been represented 
symbolically in the last casket scene, in which Bassanio, moved 
more by plainness than by eloquence, chooses lead and finds 
Portia's picture. In the Gesta version which Shakespeare seems 
to have used, the inscription on the leaden casket reads, "Who 
so chooseth me, shall finde that God hath disposed." Shake- 
speare has replaced this inscription with one that brings Bas- 
sanio's motive in choosing into line with his supporters' motive 
in giving him the opportunity to choose: "Who chooseth me 
must give and hazard all he hath." The point to be noticed is 
that Bassanio here hazards nothing that is his own. Until he 
opens the casket, he faces the possibility that he will not gain, 
but there is never for a moment the possibility that he will lose 
anything more than the right to marry another (a risk that all 
the choosers face). He has nothing really to lose. What he 
does show is an instinct for the kind of sacrifice that Portia and 


Antonio have demonstrated. He rejects rightly "what many men 
desire" and (with good sense) "as much as he deserves"; he 
chooses, without knowing what it means to choose it, the only 
course that can make him an inhabitant of Belmont. To this 
choice the necessary sequel is Bassanio's coming to full knowl- 
edge through proof, and for that Shakespeare developed the 
detail of the rings. 

The doubling of the rings in The Merchant of Venice is 
simply the natural consequence of Shakespeare's adding Gratiano 
as a double for Bassanio. Other departures from the ring 
business in II Pecorone are more significant. One interesting bit 
is his addition of Portia's request for Antonio's gloves. "Ill wear 
them for your sake," she says appropriately; for Antonio, unlike 
his prototype in the Italian story, proceeds to Belmont to enjoy 
a spiritual bond with the lady, not a betrothal to her maid-in- 
waiting. Bassanio, like Gianetto in II Pecorone, is asked to give 
up his ring, and like Gianetto he refuses on the ground that his 
wife gave it to him. The differences here are two. Gianetto in 
refusing speaks eloquently of his love for his wife ("I love her 
better than I love myself. ... I would not exchange her for any 
woman in the world"), yet he gives up the ring without any 
outside prompting (the bondsman is not even present) in 
apparent recognition of the supreme obligation that he has to 
the savior of his friend. Bassanio, free and clear, recognizes no 
supreme obligation. He would give a present of three thousand 
ducats, but he is by no means prepared to give and hazard all 
he has until Antonio shames him into it by saying, "Let his 
deservings and my love withal / Be valued 'gainst your wife's 
commandment." Worse still, he gives no indication that he 
cherishes the ring as anything more than a pledge of his newly 
acquired wealth: 

Good sir, this ring was given me by my wife; 
And when she put it on, she made me vow 
That I should neither sell nor give nor lose it. 



Portia's reply is precise and to the point: "That 'scuse serves 
many men to save their gifts/' The important point, however, 
is that he does surrender the ring. Nevill Coghill, in defending 
the conversion of Shylock as an act of mercy, comments, "Mercy 
has triumphed over justice, even if the way of mercy is a hard 
way/' 18 He might have said something like this about Bassanio 
with equal propriety. Bassanio comes into his reward in the 
hardest possible way. He gives up his old nature with diffidence 
and pain. He is among those elect who make it to the table 
only because they are pushed. 

At the table, however, the feast is the same for everybody, 
and Bassanio takes his seat at it, with his eyes, for the first time, 
wide open. When Portia charges him with his sin, which 
properly motivated would have been no sin at all, he shows an 
understanding of honor and gratitude that were completely 
lacking at the time of the event: 

I was enforced to send it after him; 
I was beset with shame and courtesy; 
My honour would not let ingratitude 
So much besmear it. 


Most important of all, however, is his recognition of what it is 
that justifies his seat at Belmont: 

Bass. Portia, forgive me this enforced wrong; 
And in the hearing of these many friends 
I swear to thee, even by thine own fair eyes, 
Wherein I see myself 

For. Mark you but that! 

In both my eyes he doubly sees himself, 
In each eye, one. Swear by your double self, 
And there's an oath of credit. 


And instantly Bassanio complies, swearing by his true "double 
self the oath that cannot be broken: 


Pardon this fault, and by my soul I swear 
I never more will break an oath with thee. 


Beyond this Bassanio cannot go, and Antonio steps in with a 
reminder that his sacrifice for Bassanio is as eternal as his 

I once did lend my body for his wealth, 
Which, but for him that had your husband's ring, 
Had quite miscarried. I dare be bound again, 
My soul upon the forfeit, that your lord 
Will never more break faith advisedly. 


"Then," says Portia, tying the whole matter up, "you 
his surety," and she returns the ring to her husband, Bassanio, 
having acknowledged both agents of his redemption, his friend 
and his bride, is at last entitled to wear it. 

Critics who feel that Shylock is the best thing in The Mer- 
chant of Venice are not likely to be patient with an interpreta- 
tion that dismisses him as a "contextual occasion"; yet this 
phrase was not intended to imply that Shylock is merely 
incidental or peripheral to the main business of the play. In 
many respects Shylock is the most fully developed "character" 
in it; and he is certainly more credible than any of the other 
usurers and Jews who figure in analogous bond stories. If his 
ability as a literary creation to survive means anything, it is fair 
to say that he is the most credible literary Jew of all. Behind 
him lies the tangle of dead convention that scholars have been 
at great pains to unravel. He has in him much of the Devil of 
the Processus Belial and the moralized version of the bond story 
in the Gesta Romanorum. He is also the despised Jewish usurer 
of Mediterranean fable and drama that we encounter directly 
in II Pecorone and at at least one remove in Marlowe's Jew of 
Malta. He is certainly the comic villain, curiously compounded 
of a thousand prejudices, legends, stage devices, and straggling 


bits of information and misinformation, that Professor Stoll 
has presented to us in his lively essay on that subject. 14 In 
addition to all these things, Shylock is a human being. It is 
irrelevant to suggest, as Professor Stoll has done, that all his lines 
can be played for comedy or for an unsympathetic response from 
the audience. The same thing is true of Hamlet and Macbeth, 
but we come at such conclusions by asking the wrong question. 
The question to ask about any dramatic character is, what 
interpretations will he legitimately and consistently bear? It is 
unfair to Shylock, to say nothing of Shakespeare, to limit him to 
the response that an Elizabethan actor might have got from an 
Elizabethan audience. For one thing, The Merchant of Venice 
is a poem Erst and a sociological document afterward, if at all. 
For another, we, with all our scholarship, can never be absolutely 
sure what the Elizabethan response was. The text, however, is 
always with us, and the text affords us a Shylock that is beyond 
question in many ways human and sympathetic. Moreover, the 
traditions that Elizabethans inherited about Jews, about whom 
they knew very little from direct experience, give ample reason 
to suppose that they as much as any people had very good 
grounds for accepting, certainly under the guidance of a con- 
vincing playwright like Shakespeare, a serious, complex, and 
dignified portrayal of the Jew. 

The Elizabethans' primary acquaintance with the Jew was 
through Scripture, and the traditions of Scriptural interpretation 
which they inherited required them to look at the Jew in two 
ways. In the first way, the Jew was the crucifier of Jesus, the 
historical fulfillment of the Satanic type Cain, who slew the 
spotless Abel. He therefore represented a race to be feared, 
despised, and rejected. In another way, thanks largely to St. 
Paul's historical interpretation of Christianity, the Jew was 
representative of a race to be redeemed. St. Paul's view of the 
Jewish race, developed at length in the tenth and eleventh 
chapters of Romans, credits the Jew with a "zeal of God, but 
not according to knowledge" (Romans x.2). They are a "dis- 
obedient and gainsaying people," under correction, not damna- 


tion. Some (among whom he includes himself) are not even 
under that, having seen and acknowledged the Messiah on 
their own. For the rest, "As concerning the gospel, they are 
enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are 
beloved for the fathers 7 sakes. For the gifts and calling of God 
are without repentance. For as ye in times past have not believed 
God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief: Even 
so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy 
they also may obtain mercy. For God hath concluded them all 
in unbelief that he might have mercy upon all" (Romans 
xi.28-32). It was this way of looking at the Jew, emphasized in 
the writing and teaching of three generations of English reform- 
ers, that had most to do with the return of the Jews to England 
under Cromwell; and it was this way that made it possible for 
Elizabethan audiences to see in Shylock a devilish yet thor- 
oughly human creature, on his way in spite of himself, at the end 
of Act IV, to the baptismal font. The Elizabethans said and 
wrote a great many uncharitable things about Jews; but, incon- 
sistent as they may have been, they were not necessarily 
hypocrites at heart. The reader who finds it difficult to square 
Antonio's demand that Shylock turn Christian with his previous 
railing upon him as a misbeliever, calling him cutthroat dog, 
and spitting upon his Jewish gabardine should look carefully at 
John Foxe's sermon at the baptizing of a Jew, cited earlier in 
this study. 15 There Foxe, taking his text from the eleventh 
chapter of Romans, stresses Paul's view that all Israel will 
eventually be saved, but he also points out that modem Jews, 
in addition to being descendants of the ones who crucified Jesus, 
are typological fulfillments of the murderer of Abel, the betrayer 
of Joseph, the contemner of Moses, the slayer of the Paschal 
lamb, and the detractors of King David. 16 The thing that makes 
Shakespeare's Jew difficult to interpret is that he cannot be 
reduced satisfactorily to conform to any single, simple Eliza- 
bethan attitude. He is the complete picture of Jewry in history 
according to St. Paul the blind, stumbling Israelite, whose 
fall is "the riches of the world." 


It is in this sense that Shylock is the contextual occasion of 
Bassanio's coming to Belmont. He is the near-perfect symbolic 
representation of the historical context, specific and general, in 
which man's salvation was achieved. From the Christian point 
of view, Israel, as the Jews understood it, had to be repudiated 
in order that Israel, as it really is, might be saved. As St. Paul 
put it, "For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the 
world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the 
dead?" (Romans xi.15). As the play ends, Israel has not yet 
been received at Belmont, but he is on his way. Jessica, who 
by her very name suggests that part of Israel which St. Paul 
called "a remnant according to the election of grace" (Romans 
xi. 5 ) 17 and who, in any event, is a Jewish wife sanctified by her 
believing husband, 18 has already taken up residence there, there 
to be instructed by Lorenzo: 

Sit, Jessica. Look how the floor of heaven 
Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold. 
There's not the smallest orb which thou behold'st 
But in his motion like an angel sings, 
Still quiring to the young-ey'd cerubims. 
Such harmony is in immortal souls; 
But whilst this muddy vesture of decay 
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot bear it. 


Some critics have been disturbed by Jessica's gaiety in Belmont 
and feel that she ought to show some signs of remorse at having 
left her father; but such readers need to be reminded that the 
Shylock she left was an unregenerate Shylock, whose house, with 
the departure of the "merry devil" Launcelot, was shortly to 
become an unrelieved hell. What remorse she felt, she felt 
before she left: 

Alack, what heinous sin is it in me 
To be asham'd to be my father's child! 
But though I am a daughter to his blood, 


I am not to his manners. O Lorenzo, 

If thou keep promise, I shall end this strife, 

Become a Christian and thy loving wife. 


Upon leaving she took no grief with her, only the clothes 
upon her back and a dowry that was modest in comparison 
with the fortune she was heiress to. We tend to forget that 
Jessica by her sudden leavetaking hazarded as much as anyone 
else in the play. For the sake of Lorenzo, whom she had to 
take on faith, she gave up wealth, history, and a religion, asking 
only his love in return. The miracle for her is that she got, not 
only Lorenzo's love, but all the things she had thrown away, 
transformed and with interest. It is no wonder that for this 
Jessica, for all Jesses and Jessicas, Belmont should be a heaven 
for rejoicing for laughter, music, candlelight, young love, and 
dancing where even the sinful device of usury finds its divine 
analog. If one should object that there is still human flesh in 
Belmont, that men behave like men there and women like 
women, and that therefore we do not honor properly either our 
love of life in the play or our love of Christ by bringing the two 
things together, we might suggest a speech of Portia's: 

A substitute shines brightly as a king 
Until a king be by: and then his state 
Empties itself, as doth an inland brook 
Into the main of waters. 


It is not the business of religion to transform our impression 
of this play; it is the play that should transform our impression 
of religion, which, until it is fully known, is well served by such 
substitutes as this. Puritan piety is an admirable thing, but it 
too is a substitute; and even the blackest Puritan knows in his 
heart that Saul's daughter was wrong when she scorned David 
for dancing before the ark. 



IT THE CONCLUSION of his famous "I know you all" solilo- 
quy in 1 Henry IV, Prince Hal promises the audience, "I'll so 
offend, to make offence a skill / Redeeming time when men 
think least I will" (I.ii.2 39-240). To almost any reader the 
phrase "redeeming time" must seem an apt one, but to readers 
familiar with the Bible it has especial power, suggesting possibly 
Colossians iv.5, "Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, 
redeeming the time," and almost certainly Ephesians v. 15-1 6, 
"See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, 
Redeeming the time, because the days are evil." Of the 
translations of Scripture that Shakespeare is likely to have 
known, only the Great Bible of 1539 substitutes another 
phrase here ("avoydyng occasyon"). The Geneva New Testa- 
ment of 1557, which seems to have been the version that 
Shakespeare knew best, has "Redemyng the tyme," as has the 
Rheims version of 1582. As far as I can tell, the phrase does not 
turn up significantly elsewhere except in Shakespeare's play; so 
it is reasonable to suppose that the appearance of it there has 
value as an allusion. Reading further in Ephesians with the 
Henry IV plays in mind amply confirms that supposition. In 
fact, reading the plays with Ephesians in mind almost gives 


one the illusion that Shakespeare set out to confirm St. Paul's 
epistle. The plays remain, as Shakespeare's plays invariably 
remain, things of solid flesh, blood, and earth; but they also 
prove to have the mysterious power to enrich the meaning of 
whatever Shakespeare has allowed them to touch. One hesitates 
to say which is more handsomely served by this particular 
contact, Shakespeare or St. Paul; but fortunately one does not 
have to say. The purpose of this chapter is simply to describe 
the contact. As preliminary to that we need to consider 
briefly what holds these plays together and what keeps them 

In any consideration of the unity of Shakespeare's Henry IV 
plays Falstaff comes early to mind as one of the great forces 
binding those two plays together; so doubtless he is, but it is 
easy to forget that he never stands at the true center of them, 
as Hal does. Seeing Falstaff in his proper place and proportion 
means never losing sight of his primary function in both plays, 
that of clown. He is a special kind of clown, to be sure, more 
arresting in some ways than any other character in either play 
and probably more diverting to us than such real-life clowns as 
Tarlton and Kemp were to Shakespeare's original audiences. 
J. Dover Wilson has described FalstafFs inheritance, not ex- 
haustively by any means, by writing that he is heir to the Vice 
and inheritor of the functions and attributes of the Lord of 
Misrule, the Fool, the Buffoon, and the Jester. 1 We can see all 
this conspicuously displayed in Falstaff's repartee with Hal 
and in his seriocomic "play extempore/' to say nothing of his 
playful threats to all his friends, threatening to beat Hal out of 
the kingdom with a dagger of lath (1 Henry IV II.iv.150-154), 
threatening to have ballads made upon all his companions at 
Gadshill "and sung to filthy tunes" (1 Henry IV II.ii.47-50), 
threatening to advertise by ballad his triumph over Sir John 
Coleville of the Dale if Prince John will not give him proper 
credit for it (2 Henry IV IV.iii.51-59). "I will devise matter 
enough out of this Shallow," he says at the beginning of the 
last act of 2 Henry IV, "to keep Prince Harry in continual 


laughter the wearing out of six fashions." So it goes. These 
touches and many more like them all serve to underscore 
FalstafFs conception of his relation to Prince Hal, which, to 
put it euphemistically, is that of "companion to the Prince/' or, 
more plainly, that of court fool and jester. In Part I Falstaff 
embodies in adult flesh a youthful attitude toward the world 
which at best can serve only occasionally as the mode of an 
adult's existence. The sad part about Falstaff is that he 
continually with charm in Part I and with increasing bitterness 
in Part II urges this attitude upon Hal as an all-suflEcient one. 
The best one can say about it is that the Falstaffian attitude 
deserves to be retained and modified into something more 
appropriate to Hal's imminent adult station. Hal, still immature 
and hence unable to make the necessary modifications in that 
symbol of his greener youth, is driven eventually to try eradicat- 
ing it altogether, at great risk and with permanent damage to 
his own moral and spiritual life. Yet even here, where Hal's 
defective spirit makes the rejection of Falstaff seem almost like 
vindication for the old man, it is Hal's loss in rejecting Falstaff 
that distresses us rather than FalstafFs failure to achieve the 
position of scandalous preferment that he has vainly and 
pathetically grasped for. 

Hal, in fact, holds together the three plays that involve him 
somewhat better than Falstaff holds together his two. If the 
reader is willing to make a few reservations, he may find it 
enlightening to take these three plays as three stages in a young 
man's struggle toward self-redemption. He does not even have 
to imagine that Shakespeare planned to do something like this 
in advance. With the rough outline of the old Famous Victories 
in mind, Shakespeare may have begun simply by projecting a 
play or plays on the subject of Hal's "coming of age," with 
perhaps a final play on Hal's "full flowering" contemplated for 
a projected Henry V. The characteristically ironic and near- 
tragic developments which begin to suggest themselves almost 
as soon as the first play starts may easily represent Shakespeare's 
own gradual growth in understanding as well as Hal's. They 


certainly suggest an honest reluctance to wind up anything 
with an easy "happily ever after/ 7 For example, the tentative 
reformation of Hal in Part I, though sufficient as it stands to 
permit a plausible ending of that play, nevertheless leaves one 
slightly curious about what the boy is likely to do at the next 
invitation to carouse in Eastcheap; and Part II, though it 
relieves our uneasiness about Hal's moral decisiveness, raises the 
even more serious question of Hal's loss of humanity, which 
continues to haunt us throughout most of Henry V. Similarly, 
the fairytale ending to that last play, admittedly almost a neces- 
sity for a play about a young man whom history had given only 
two more years to live, hardly conceals that even at the end of 
the story the young man still has a great deal to learn, both about 
being a king and about being a man. This is probably the main 
reason why Henry V sometimes fails to please us; but it behooves 
us to be grateful for the artistic honesty that compelled Shake- 
speare to leave it as he left the others, with something still to 
be desired. 

Taken separately, as one really should take them, each of 
these plays has its own unity. The thing that holds 1 Henry IV 
together is Hal's attempt to define for himself, in spite of the 
conflicting claims of his father, Falstaff, and young Hotspur, 
the proper sphere of honor. On this matter of defining the 
sphere of honor, the King and Hotspur are pretty much in 
agreement; the only difference between them is that it is to the 
King's advantage that Hal measure up to their common code, to 
Hotspur's advantage that Hal fall short. Hal, though apparently 
seeing the limitations of the code they would measure him by, 
realizes that he must meet that code on its own terms before he 
can ever begin to transcend it. He further realizes that by so 
doing he must necessarily repudiate the easy but cynical alterna- 
tive (What is honor?) proposed by Falstaff. Hal's confrontation 
of these views ends in his brilliantly successful encounter with 
Hotspur at Shrewsbury, and the degree of order restored to 
England and generated within himself is the measure of his 
achievement in that action. The whole action of Part I, 


therefore, can be described as a movement toward order not 
just any order, but an order that is both politically acceptable 
and humane, one that avoids equally the timid conventionality 
of the King's conception and the deplorable anarchy of FalstaflPs. 
We can best see the plot of the play as a series of attempts 
to reach or at least to define this goal of order. Each new 
attempt is marked by some kind of ritual or ceremonial 
occasion which symbolizes the order that seems at that moment 
to be in view; yet with each new symbol of order some new 
source of disorder also appears, interrupting the ritual and 
thwarting the completion of the action. For example, in Act I, 
Scene i, we find the King on the point of making a formal 
pronouncement of peace to his nobles; but scarcely has he got 
the words out of his mouth when Westmoreland interrupts 
with news that rebellion has broken out all over again. A similar 
ritual occasion in the third scene of that act gets interrupted 
by Hotspur's defiance of the King's authority. The "play 
extempore" in Act II, which to be sure is a parody of a formal 
occasion that has not at that point taken place, looks forward 
with double vision to Hal's harmonious reconciliation with the 
King and to an increasingly bitter estrangement from Falstaff. 
Meanwhile Hotspur, who has achieved an order of sorts among 
his band of friends and allies, is proceeding to sow seeds of 
additional disorder for himself and his cause in an explosive 
exchange with Owen Glendower (Ill.i). Thus, when we come 
to the middle of the play, we realize that neither the King nor 
Hotspur has succeeded in achieving much of that permanent 
order they so desperately seek; it remains for Prince Hal, who, 
unknown to any but himself and us, is also committed to the 
restoration of order, to articulate in his encounter with his father 
(Ill.ii) a promise of the only kind of order that can possibly 
have any lasting value for himself, for the King, and for England. 
The King gets in this climactic scene what he has been praying 
for, but he gets it on Hal's initiative and on Hal's terms. When 
Hal, with perfect decorum, has successfully completed the 
ritual combat with Hotspur, not even Falstaff's parody of that 


combat a baffling irrelevancy to the sober-minded Prince John 
but not to Hal can prevent the final realization of order 
symbolized in the judgment scene at the end of the play. 

To define the sphere of honor, then, and to achieve a 
semblance of order at both the personal and the national 
levels these are two ways of formulating the action 1 Henry IV. 
The third way, which is the primary concern of this chapter, 
may have developed along with the play as the result of that 
single happy allusion to a passage in Ephesians. At any rate, 
that one early allusion helps us to see a great many more to 
the same epistle, so that in the end we have a new formulation 
of the action of 1 Henry IV which allows us more confidently 
than ever before to consider the two parts of Henry IV as a 
meaningful whole. 

Quoting only a few of the highlights of St. Paul's exhortation 
to the Ephesians should make clear the striking applicability 
of that epistle to Shakespeare's 1 Henry IV: 

in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, 
according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now 
worketh in the children of disobedience; Among whom also we all 
had our conversation in times past in the lusts of the flesh, fulfilling 
the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the 
children of wrath, even as others (n.2-3). ... I, therefore, the 
prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the 
vocation wherewith ye are called (rv.l). . . . That we henceforth be 
no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every 
wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, 
whereby they lie in wait to deceive (iv.14). . . . That ye put off 
concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt 
according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your 
mind (iv.22-23). . . . putting away lying (iv.25). . . . Let him that 
stole steal no more (iv.28). . . . fornication, and all uncleanness, or 
covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh 
saints; Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting (v.3-4). . . . 
See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, 
Redeeming the time, because the days are evil (v.15-16). . . . And be 


not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the 
Spirit (v.18). 

All these passages have been set down here because they suggest 
in some way Shakespeare's Henry IV plays; but one would have 
to admit, I think, that they also give, as far as they go, a fair 
idea of the general development of St. Paul's epistle. They make 
it clear that the kind of order Paul was urging Christians to 
exhibit in their lives is the very order which is being sought in 
all three of these plays: children obeying fathers, fathers 
respecting children, husbands caring for wives, wives submitting 
dutifully to husbands, and servants obeying their masters. And 
from the achievement of this order the Christian can look 
forward to achieving the final thing to be sought, strength to 
resist evil, whereupon he may be ready to put on "the whole 
armour of God" and "wrestle not against flesh and blood, but 
against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the 
darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high 
places" (vi.12). Before the achievement of either Christian 
order or spiritual strength, however, must come redemption of 
the time. This is Hal's immediate objective and his partial 
accomplishment in I Henry IV. 

His objective in 2 Henry IV is similar, but it takes there a 
slightly different form. The conflict in that play develops from 
a tiny seed that sprouted early in Part I when Falstaff made a 
mildly rebellious response to Hal's first stirrings toward respect- 
ability: "If sack and sugar be a fault, God help the wicked. . . . 
Banish plump Jack, and banish all the world" (II.iv.516-527). 
At this point Falstaff was only potentially Hal's antagonist, but 
his use of the word banish implied an unfortunate ultimatum: 
Hal had either to embrace the old man who lies, cheats, steals, 
drinks to excess, and talks lewdly, or banish that man, reject him 
outright. Had Falstaff been another Peto, Bardolph, or Poins, 
such an ultimatum would have caused little concern; but Falstaff 
is that most monstrous and most human of paradoxes, the full- 
fledged sinner who is nevertheless sweet, kind, true, valiant, 


and incidentally old. By pointing to these claims he manages 
to put Hal's newly acquired morality to the test. Thus the great 
question created in Part I and carried over for full development 
in Part II is not another high-flown query about honor or order 
but the simple, practical question, "What shall we do with our 
fat brother Falstaff?" 

Hal's answers to that question are not the same as Falstaff's. 
They include, to use the terms of Ephesians, redeeming the old 
man as part of the corrupt times; only as a desperate alternative 
do they include casting him off entirely; and they do not include 
embracing him as he is. Almost from the moment when he 
decides to turn toward maturity, therefore, Hal begins to try to 
salvage his fat knight to be a companion at court and a link with 
his youth. His first attempt consists of giving his friend a 
"charge of foot" (IILiii.208-209). FalstafFs reply to this is 
typical of his resistance to all such efforts: "I would it had been 
of horse. Where shall I find one that can steal well?" His words 
to the Hostess after Hal has gone follow the same general line, 
"Rare words! brave world! Hostess, my breakfast, come. O, I 
could wish this tavern were my drum." Falstaff, of course, has 
no intention of fulfilling the trust about to be placed in him. 
He misuses the King's press damnably and gaily admits as much. 
Later, on the battlefield, when Hal asks to borrow his sword, 
he offers instead the loan of his "pistol," which turns out to be 
the inevitable bottle of sack, accompanied by an impromptu 
quip, " Tis hot, 'tis hot. There's that will sack a city" (V.iii.55- 
56). As the play draws to a close his anger mounts. He pays 
no attention to Hal's tenderly sentimental observations on his 
supposed death, he chooses the most shocking means available 
to show his contempt for Hal's victory over Percy and his formal 
code of honor, and he is not even moved by Hal's offer to lie in 
his behalf (V.iv.161-162). "I'll follow, as they say, for reward," 
is the beginning of his final comment, which continues, "He 
that rewards me, God reward him! If I do grow great, I'll grow 
less; for I'll purge, and leave sack, and live cleanly as a nobleman 
should do/' 


The very thought of growing less as he is made to "grow 
great" creates the angry Falstaff that we see in Part II. Some 
critics have mistakenly tried to write him off here as a mere 
boasting coward. The report in Part II is that, in spite of his 
scandalous behavior at Shrewsbury, he did "some good" there 
(I.ii.70-72), and throughout much of that play he continues 
actively to serve the King, though severed from Prince Hal. 
Here it is that FalstafFs determination not to grow great, not 
to abandon the role of jesting companion that he feels is his 
prerogative, not to be soberly wise as kings are, becomes the 
adamantine rock upon which Hal's intention proves itself and 
is at length humbled. The Hostess with more overt cause to 
reject her fat man than Prince Hal ever had, and with consider- 
ably more insight than Hal, declares out of FalstafFs hearing, 
"I have known thee these twenty-nine years, come peascod time; 
but an honester and truer-hearted man . . ." (II.iv.41 3-414). 
And the rebel Sir John Coleville says simply, "I think you are 
Sir John Falstaff, and in that thought yield me" (IV.iii. 18-19). 
This is the man whom Hal mistakenly tries to flatter into con- 
ventional respectability by conventionally dignifying his claim 
to knighthood. "If the Prince put thee into my service for any 
other reason than to set me off," says Falstaff to the page thus 
assigned to him, "why then I have no judgment. Thou whoreson 
mandrake, thou art fitter to be worn in my cap than to wait at 
my heels" (Lii. 14-18). The Prince's efforts are doomed to 
failure; but his motive is clear, as is the significance of the terms 
in which he sets it forth. For these terms constitute a second 
binding link with Paul's epistle to the Ephesians, stronger than 
the first link but, largely because of a gloss common in popular 
editions, seldom regarded. 

In Part II, Hal, newly returned to London and on the point 
of going in search of Falstaff, says to Bardolph and the young 
page, after some preliminary banter, "Well, thus we play the 
fools with the time, and the spirits of the wise sit in the clouds 
and mock us. Is your master here in London?" The exchange 
continues (italics are mine): 


Bard. Yea, my lord. 

Prince. Where sups he? Doth the old boar 
feed in the old frank? 

Bard. At the old place, my lord, in East- 

Prince. What company? 

Page. Ephesians, my lord, of the old church. 

Prince. Sup any women with him? 

Page. None, my lord, but old Mistress 
Quickly and Mistress Doll Tearsheet. 


Ephesians, the glosses commonly tell us, means here ''boon 
companions/' But this is only repeating what the N.E.D. says, 
and the N.E.D. lists this use of the term as the first in the 
language in this sense, the only other being that in Merry Wives 
of Windsor IV.v.19. "Boon companions" they certainly are; but 
the term suggests that they are also companions whose lives 
need some reforming, just as the Ephesians or Lacedaemonians 
or whomever Paul's epistle was addressed to might have been 
expected to need the admonitions that appear in the Epistle 
to the Ephesians. Moreover, FalstafFs friends are not merely 
Ephesians but "Ephesians of the old church," that is, of the 
unregenerate. For we are dealing with "old" in the sense that it 
is used in Ephesians iv.22, "That yet put off concerning the 
former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to 
the deceitful lusts"; and as it is used in Romans vi.6, "our old 
man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be 
destroyed"; and as it is used in Colossians m.9-11, "Lie not one 
to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his 
deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in 
knowledge after the image of him that created him." It is the 
old man, the unregenerate, that is to be either transformed or 
repudiated here; and St. Paul speaks of this metaphorical man 
in a tone that makes him quite proper to serve as an analogy 
for the old boar in the old frank, Ephesian of the old church , 
and friend to old Mistress Quickly. 


We should keep in mind, too, that it was probably Shake- 
speare who made Falstaff old. Oldcastle died a martyr and, as 
Jockey in the Famous Victories of Henry V, had never been old. 
Neither was the Oldcastle of the anonymous Life of Sir John 
Oldcastle old, as the prolog to that play makes clear: 

It is no pamperd glutton we present, 
Nor aged Councellor to youthfull sinne, 
But one, whose vertue shone aboue the rest, 
A valiant Martyr and a vertuous peere. 

One likes to think that FalstafFs age came about accidentally 
as the result of Prince Hal's obvious pun in 1 Henry IV on his 
friend's original name ("As the honey of Hybla, my old lad 
of the castle" Lii.46-47). His age, as he tells it in the next act, 
is "some fifty, or, by'r lady, inclining to threescore" (II.iv.466- 
467). As the Prince, acting in the person of the King, describes 
it, "There is a devil haunts thee in the likeness of an old fat 
man" (II.iv.492-493). To this, Falstaff replies, "That he is old, 
the more the pity, his white hairs do witness it; but that he is, 
saving your reverence, a whoremaster, that I utterly deny. If sack 
and sugar be a fault, God help the wicked! If to be old and 
merry be a sin, then many an old host that I know is damn'd" 
(ILiv.513-519). By the end of Act II Falstaff is definitely estab- 
lished as aged. 

It is only in Part II that FalstafFs age develops into such a 
symbol of the reprehensible part of him that he himself would 
try to deny it. "You that are old," he says to the Lord Chief 
Justice, "consider not the capacities of us that are young; you 
do measure the heat of our livers with the bitterness of your 
galls; and we that are in the vanguard of our youth, I must 
confess are wags too" (Lii.196-200). The Chief Justice's reply 
is devastating: 

Do you set down your name in the scroll of 
youth, that are written down old with all the 
characters of age: Have you not a moist eye, a 


dry hand, a yellow cheek, a white beard, a 
decreasing leg, an increasing belly? Is not your 
voice broken, your wind short, your chin 
double, your wit single, and every part about 
you blasted with antiquity? and will you yet 
call yourself young? Fie, fie, Sir John! 


FalstafFs defense echoes the wording if not the sense of the 
admonition in Colossians m.16 ("Let the word of Christ dwell 
in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one 
another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with 
grace in your hearts to the Lord") and in Ephesians v. 18-1 9 
("And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled 
with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and 
spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the 
Lord"). He says: "My lord, I was born about three of the clock 
in the afternoon, with a white head and something a round 
belly. For my voice, I have lost it with hallooing and singing 
of anthems. To approve my youth further, I will not. The 
truth is, I am only old in judgement and understanding." Youth, 
whatever else it may be, is symbolic of virtue. No one questions 
that here. It is only the proof of youth that is in question; and 
Falstaff knows only too well the terms in which spiritual youth 
must be claimed. But the Chief Justice has denied him that 
kind of youth: "Now the Lord lighten thee!" he says, "Thou 
art a great fool" (II.i.208-209). Prince Hal, as we have seen, 
has called him the "old board of Eastcheap," and the page 
pronounced him one with the "old church." Even Doll Tear- 
sheet has said, "Thou whoreson little tidy Bartholomew boarpig, 
when wilt thou leave fighting o' days and foining o' nights, and 
begin to patch up thine old body for heaven?" (ILiv.250-253). 
At last Falstaff himself is forced to admit, "I am old, I am old" 

At this point the Prince steps forth to draw the old man out 
by the ears and, technically at least, succeeds. He has already 


made up his mind that Falstaff and his companions are obdurate 
and persistent (II.ii.49-50), that he, Hal, suffers in common 
esteem by being "engrafted" to such companions, and that any 
traffic with such companions is simply "playing fool with the 
time 77 (II.ii.153-154). He has now only to catch Falstaff in the 
appearance of "wilful abuse 77 something that turns out to be so 
embarrassingly easy to do that even Hal seems glad to find an 
excuse to let the matter drop. There is therefore no legal action 
only the rejection of a friend in the name of honor, duty, and 
morality: "I feel me much to blame / So idly to profane the 
precious time, 77 he says. "Falstaff, good night 77 (Il.iv. 390-395). 
And there the opposition stands, without hope of reconcilement 
Between this and the final "Fall to thy knees, old man. . . . 
How ill white hairs become a fool and jester, 77 there is no 
development of the relationship between these two. There is, 
however, a great development in our understanding of that 

For one thing, we see from the start that the Prince has 
misgivings about what he is doing. His question to Poins, "Doth 
it not show vilely in me to desire small beer? 77 has been followed 
by "Belike . . . my appetite was not princely got 77 (II.ii.7-12). 
Falstaff gets to the root of Hal's trouble when he observes, "His 
grace says that which his flesh rebels against 77 (Il.iv. 379-380). 
Hal, long before he rejects Falstaff, has rejected or refused to 
face squarely a part of himself. The audience is not asked to 
believe with Hal that he was merely dallying with something 
he fully intended to put by, as he himself said in the "I know 
you all 77 soliloquy in Part I; nor is it asked to accept Warwick's 
suggestion that Hal was merely studying evil as a prince in 
order to know it better as a king (2 Henry IV IV.iv.67-69). 
Falstaff, for all his villainy and pride (and he has much of both), 
stands as a great symbol of common humanity in Part II as in 
Part I. He is therefore the "old man 77 in the sense that he 
incorporates many human failings that Hal must learn to 
recognize in himself and reject, and he is at the same time the 
old man who is still full of life and the love of life and has much 


to teach the young Hal about both. Casting Falstaff off and 
accepting Falstaff are not alternatives between which Hal must 
choose; he must in all conscience and honest} 7 do something of 
both. He must "cast off the old man" in the sense that he 
must recognize and attempt to correct the ancient penchant for 
sin within himself as well as in those about him; but he must 
also in charity recognize his own participation with Falstaff in 
common flesh and accept his own fleshliness as well as that of 
his friend. Ideally his attitude should be that of 1 Corinthians 
xii, which includes a recognition that "much more those mem- 
bers of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary"; 
and his emphasis should be that of Ephesians iv.16, whereby 
the "whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that 
which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working 
in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto 
the edifying of itself in love." The truth about Falstaff is aptly 
summarized near the beginning of 2 Henry TV in the opening 
exchange of Act I, Scene ii: 

Fal. Sirrah, you giant, what says the doctor 
to my water? 

Page. He said, sir, the water itself was good 
healthy water but, for the party that ow'd it, 
he might have moe diseases than he knew for. 

Shortly thereafter Falstaff makes his famous boast: "The brain 
of this foolish-compounded clay, man, is not able to invent 
anything that intends to laughter more than I invent or is 
invented on me. I am not only witty in myself, but the cause 
that wit is in other men" (I.ii.8-11). Diseases he certainly has; 
but he also has his claim to uniqueness, to being essential and 
indispensable. And Hal's unfortunate impulse to condemn the 
whole man rather than struggle through the difficult course 
of trying to redeem what is basically good in him is as much 
the mark of an incipient puritanism as it is of immaturity. 
Admittedly, he does make a show of trying to remake Falstaff, 


but he wants to remake him by ignoring all that makes him 
Falstaff in the first place. It is no wonder that Falstaff rebels. 

Throughout the rest of Part II, in spite of some unpleasant 
things that serve to remind us of Falstaff at his worst, there is 
evidence of a serious effort on Shakespeare's part to make Falstaff 
more sympathetic than ever. Even his selection of conscriptees, 
outrageous on principle, is not without merit; it suggests more 
than anything else Gideon's selection of a band to serve the 
Lord. Falstaff's "Give me the spirit, Master Shallow" (III.ii.278) 
is by no means pure irony. Who in honesty would prefer 
Mouldy's constant care for "my old dame" or Bullcalf s "whore- 
son cold" to Feeble's courageous, "We owe God a death . . . 
let it go which way it will, he that dies this year is quit for the 
next" (III.ii.251-255)? And as for human sympathy, who does 
not wince with Falstaff at the thought than Jane Nightwork, 
one of his "bona robas," is "Old, old, Master Shallow" (Ill.ii. 
219)? Or who fails to sense the pathos of "We have heard the 
chimes at midnight"? There is pathos, too, in his attempts to 
persuade himself that Hal has not forgotten his old friend or 
his old friend's uses and pathos in his shaky attempt, as he 
stands waiting for the king to ride by, to manufacture reasons 
why his sweaty appearance and general breathlessness will be 
most likely to please. The rejection, when it comes, hits at 
that peculiar combination of the reprehensible and the lovable: 

I know thee not, old man; fall to thy prayers. 
How ill white hairs become a fool and jester! 
I have long dreamt of such a kind of man, 
So surfeit-swell'd, so old, and so profane; 
But being awak'd, I do despise my dream. 


Some have praised this rejection, but few love it, for it is in 
no sense an act of love. There is, in fact, no evidence of love in 
anything that Hal says here, no humanity, no recognition of the 
beam that makes the mote recognizable. And not only has he 


failed to see what is lovable in the man he is repudiating; he 
has reached a point of blindness where men generally are con- 
cerned. Thus at the end of 2 Henry TV we leave Prince Hal 
with much to learn. In the last play in this series he does learn 
some of it, but not until he has known scorn, until, as king, he 
has known what it is to put off king's robes and wear a servant's 
cloak, until he has seen men weep and seen men die, and wooed 
a maid like any other man. 



'o SURVEY all the things that have been said about Troilus 
and Cressida would be both tedious and needless. It is enough 
to say that many readers have been intrigued by the play and 
almost as many repelled by it; for in it Shakespeare had the 
audacity to do what we do not often allow any playwright to 
do that is, to present a tale in which the protagonist finds life 
both unbearable and inescapable. Troilus' fate is to go on living 
with nothing left to live for, and that fate is so disquietingly 
common that most of us derive little satisfaction from thinking 
about it. Hence there has been a long succession of attempts, 
from Dryden's time to the present, to explain the play away as 
something that Shakespeare wrote early, wrote only in part, 
wrote in sickness, wrote in anger, or perhaps wrote as idle 
amusement on leftover steam generated for the composition of 
Hamlet. These are undoubtedly comforting suppositions, but 
it is probably more honest to accept our discomfort and assume 
that the play means what it seems to mean. "The real problem 
about the play," writes Kenneth Muir, "is the failure of most 
critics to appreciate it" 1 We can best attack that problem by 
divesting ourselves of any trace of the notion that there is 
something inartistic or second rate about satire. The representa- 


tion of human folly has as much right to literary respectability 
as the representation of human dignity or human idealism, folly 
being both more common than the other two and more likely 
to be genuine. Muir, who finds the play eminently praiseworthy, 
may be said to have begun at this point, for he takes the view 
that the play is in large part an exposure of what commonly 
passes for idealism; yet he does not see in it any repudiation of 
genuine human ideals or of genuine human dignity. Cressida, 
as he observes, may be corrupt, but she does not cancel out 
Rosalind or Viola, and she does not necessarily stain our 
mothers. One might make a similar observation about Troilus. 
We are compelled to recognize that his action in the play is 
folly and his fate disillusionment; we are also compelled to 
recognize, I think, that Shakespeare's representation of him is 
more immediately meaningful to us than his representation of 
larger heroes like Hamlet or Macbeth. Yet nothing in the play 
suggests that we are bound to be fools or that the fate of 
Troilus is precisely representative of what our own is likely to 
be. It sobers us, but it leaves us with a capacity for hope. 

The Biblical allusions in Troilus and Cressida are neither so 
numerous nor so striking as those in the other plays we have 
considered. Moreover, they do not here readily suggest Biblical 
analogies with the fable. Yet there is nothing casual or accidental 
about them. Working as reinforcement for the network of 
metaphors in the play, they help to establish and define the 
values that are presented there. They help also to correct the 
view held by some readers that the play is an outpouring of 
personal bitterness and disillusionment, that it represents Shake- 
speare's denunciation of contemporary England, or of his own 
theatrical world, or of human nature generally. Recognizing 
these allusions, their Biblical context, and the way they operate 
within the play enables us to see that the much discussed 
"bitterness" of Troilus and Cressida is not so unrelieved as some 
critics have supposed. 

Preparation for one of these allusions appears in Troilus' 
soliloquy near the end of the first scene of Act I: 


Tell me, Apollo, for thy Daphne's love, 
What Cressid is, what Pandar, and what we. 
Her bed is India; there she lies, a pearl; 
Between our Ilium and where she resides, 
Let it be call'd the wild and wand'ring flood, 
Ourself the merchant, and this sailing Pandar 
Our doubtful hope, our convoy, and our bark. 


The allusion itself comes into focus several scenes later when 
Troilus, attempting to justify the retention of Helen, resorts to 
some of the same terms: 

Why, she is a pearl, 

Whose price hath launched above a thousand ships, 
And tum'd crown'd kings to merchants. 


Marlowe is probably responsible for the phrase "launched above 
a thousand ships" here, but pearl and merchant in both quota- 
tions allude to one of Jesus' parables about the kingdom of 
heaven, as given in Matthew xin.45-46: "Again, the kingdom of 
heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: 
Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and 
sold all that he had, and bought it." The "pearl of great price" 
is almost a dead commonplace with us; and, as Richmond Noble 
observes, it was a commonplace with Elizabethans too. 2 It is 
confirmed as allusion here by its use, both times, in conjunction 
with merchant; and as allusion it makes both times an ironic 
comment on the situation at hand. 

The pearl in Matthew's gospel has been variously interpreted 
as a symbol for Christ's church, for the elect, or for the kingdom 
within; but pretty clearly it is something worth giving up every- 
thing else in the world for. 3 The merchant there is explicitly 
said to be like the kingdom of heaven. Here the pearls are 
Cressida and Helen, two ladies whom the Elizabethans con- 
sidered at best a pair of unusually glamorous whores, to be 


sought and bought, not figuratively but literally, by someone 
primarily interested in glamorous whores. The irony for Troilus 
is that he uses the allusion innocently, under the naive impression 
that Cressida is really infinitely worth seeking and Helen 
infinitely worth keeping. Helen, we may be sure, knows precisely 
where her attraction lies; and Cressida, who seems to have 
some inkling of the beauty of Troilus 7 innocence, equally 
recognizes her own value as that of fleshly merchandise. Her 
objective is to get, not to give. "That she belov'd knows nought 
that knows not this," she tells herself privately at one point; 
"Men prize the thing ungain'd more than it is. ... Therefore 
this maxim out of love I teach: / Achievement is command; 
ungain'd, beseech" (I.ii.314-319). Pandarus, of course, from 
beginning to end recognizes his office as that of a "trader in the 
flesh"; and Paris knows that he, too, is of that breed, so that 
when Diomedes bitterly denounces his Helen as a whore, he 
can reply in the cant of merchants: 

Fair Diomed, you do as chapmen do, 
Dispraise the thing that you desire to buy; 
But we in silence hold this virtue well, 
We'll not commend what we intend to sell. 
Here lies our way. 


Ulysses, who is sometimes credited with giving (in his speech 
on degree) a lofty philosophical key to the interpretation of this 
play, behaves and talks as much like a merchant as any of the 
Trojans. Plotting with Nestor to work upon the basest part of 
Achilles' nature by having Ajax draw the right to fight Hector, 
he says: 

Let us, like merchants, show our foulest wares, 
And think, perchance, they'll sell; if not, 
The lustre of the better yet to show, 
Shall show the better. 



Even the prophetess Cassandra recognizes the level to which 
men on both sides have descended and urges the course of 
wisdom upon her brothers in terms they seem most likely to 
understand. "Let us pay betimes/ 7 she pleads, "A moiety of 
that mass of moan to come" (ILii. 106-1 07). 

Yet Troilus, to whose lips the metaphors of trade come most 
readily of all, remains, until he is finally outbidden, unaware 
that he actually is in a kind of trade. He can ask the question, 
"What is Cressid, what Pandar, and what we?" and not really 
understand the answers he gives to his own questions (Li. 101- 
107). He can shock his brother Hector with the question, 
"What is aught, but as 'tis valu'd?" (II.ii.52) and fail com- 
pletely to recognize that his implicit repudiation of absolute 
value where Helen is concerned makes a mocker} 7 of the absolute 
value he has attributed to Cressida. "We turn not back the 
silks upon the merchant, / When we have spoiled them," he 
tells Hector, yet he fails to see how the figure might easily come 
to apply to his own personal situation. And he never dreams 
how truly he speaks when he says to Cressida on taking leave of 
her, "We two, that with so many thousand sighs / Did buy each 
other, must poorly sell ourselves / With the rude brevity and 
discharge of one" (IV.iv.41-43). Never, that is, until the evi- 
dence of his senses forces him to recognize that Cressida is a 
pearl who will glow brightly for any merchant-lover who hap- 
pens to possess her; and then with undiminished naivete he 
repudiates all pearls and all merchantmen, leaving Pandarus to 
lament, "O world! world! world! thus is the poor agent despis'd!" 
(V.x. 36-37). 

This, the story of a young man's disillusionment, is Troilus' 
story and the story of the play, which belongs primarily to 
Troilus and not to Hector, Cressida, or some other. It is like 
the story of Prince Hal in some respects but unlike Hal's story 
in that the disillusionment of Troilus is never relieved. A more 
appropriate parallel to Troilus' story, however, exists within 
the play itself. It is that of Achilles, whom critics have too often 
been content to describe as the conventionally proud and brutal 


Greek hero, untrustworthy in some ways and incorrigibly vain, 
doting upon a Trojan princess. Shakespeare has surely given 
us more than this. His Achilles, like his Troilus 7 is a young man 
who stumbles over infantile principle, who sees the relativity 
of other men's values but naively believes that he himself is in 
possession of an absolute one. Some have designated Achilles' 
flaw as his lustful passion for Priam's daughter Polyxena, which 
in Shakespeare's play helps to explain why Achilles has abstained 
from battle. But love for Polyxena is merely the occasion for 
Achilles' abstention; it does not really account for it. Achilles 
is wedded not to lust but to his own sense of greatness, which 
makes it possible for him to take liberties with military decorum 
that not even an Agamemnon would dare. This is why there is 
real pathos in that scene (Ill.iii) in which Achilles tries to 
maintain confidence in the security of his greatness against the 
powerful arguments of Ulysses and the railing of Thersites. He 
has been telling Patroclus that "greatness, once fall'n out with 
fortune, / Must fall out with men too"; and then he concludes, 
"But 'tis not so with me; / Fortune and I are friends. I do 
enjoy /At ample point all that I did possess" (IILiii.75-89). 
Even here his confidence has been slightly shaken by the snub 
that Agamemnon, Nestor, Menelaus, and Ajax have given him; 
but it disintegrates almost completely before the verbal assaults 
of Ulysses: 

O, let not virtue seek 
Remuneration for the thing it was; 
For beauty, wit, 

High birth, vigour of bone, desert in service, 
Love, friendship, charity, are subjects all 
To envious and calumniating Time. 
One touch of nature makes the whole world kin, 
That all, with one consent, praise new-born gawds, 
Though they are made and moulded of things past, 
And give to dust that is a little gilt 
More laud than gilt o'er-dusted. 



Achilles, now rapidly approaching the point that Troilus will 
not reach until he has witnessed the exchange between Cressida 
and Diomedes, tries to make a show of assurance by ordering 
Patroclus to have Ajax invite Hector to visit the Greek camp; 
but by the time Patroclus and Thersites have finished their little 
playlet by way of demonstrating how the stupid peacock Ajax is 
likely to treat this request, his once superb confidence has been 
reduced to a tissue of doubts. "My mind is troubled/ 7 he says, 
"like a fountain stirr'd; / And I myself see not the bottom of it" 
(III.iii.311-312). Polyxena at this point is no part of his distress; 
nor does thought of her prevent his treating Hector, come to the 
Greek camp to fight with Ajax, with unpardonable insolence. 
He stares at the Trojan hero like a merchant appraising a beef 
"As I would buy thee, view thee limb by limb" (IV.v.238) 
for in the world as Achilles now sees it, greatness is no birth- 
right but something to be bought periodically, as one buys 
meat and drink. That a letter from Queen Hecuba reminding 
him of his promise not to fight Hector causes him momentarily 
to desist in no way alters the fact that he now regards his own 
greatness as something to be bought by slaying Hector. He is 
here simply a young man honorable enough to keep a promise 
"Fall Greeks; fall fame; honour go or stay" (V.i.48) and 
Hector is temporarily spared. A few hours later he is a young 
man honorable enough to avenge the death of a friend, and 
Hector dies. In all this swift rush of events Achilles is funda- 
mentally neither lustful nor brutish; he is merely disenchanted. 
It is disenchantment that has brought him into the conflict as 
it has also brought Troilus. At the end of the play there is 
scarcely a hair's difference between Achilles' "Now, Troy, sink 
down!" and Troilus' "You vile abominable tents / Thus proudly 
pight upon our Phrygian plains." 

If consideration of the play were to stop here, there might be 
some justification for calling it inconclusive. From the point of 
view of Troilus and Achilles the world is without real values. 
War is a meaningless business of buying and selling. Loving is 
usually a matter of buying and selling too. One gets what one 


can afford; one has what one can afford to keep; and one repays 
theft with revenge. Justice is simply a matter of being "even." 
But Troilus and Achilles, although they are the primary and 
secondary reflectors for the action of the play, do not have 
their being merely in the world as they see and understand it. 
The world about them is much more complex and varied than 
they realize. It is full of men and women, all more or less 
capable of embodying such values as love, honor, and greatness 
and all potentially fallible. Agamemnon knows this: 

. . . every action that hath gone before, 
Whereof we have record, trial did draw 
Bias and thwart, not answering the aim 
And that unbodied figure of the thought 
That gav't surmised shape. 


His advice, which Nestor seconds, is to trust in Providence and 
have faith that "the protective trials of great Jove" will winnow 
the light away and leave a mass "rich in virtue and unmingled." 
Ulysses, who talks more nobly than he acts, takes a more 
humanistic view of the cosmic order and argues convincingly 
(who, indeed, could entirely disagree with him?) that the great 
principle which holds all the universe together is that of degree, 
without which 

everything includes itself in power, 
Power into will, will into appetite; 
And appetite, an universal wolf, 
So doubly seconded with will and power, 
Must make perforce an universal prey, 
And last eat up himself. 


This principle, like Agamemnon's, is sound, though it is ques- 
tionable whether Ulysses lives by it; 4 and neither principle 
carries us far enough into the meaning of the play. If divine 


testing is involved, its principal result here is to winnow out 
Hector, a more significant "mass of virtue" by far than any 
other on either side. And if degree has really been shaken by 
Achilles* temporary defection, it is hardly restored by the manner 
of his return to battle, which brings power without principle 
to a consummation in the worst kind of foul play. Both 
Agamemnon and Ulysses in this scene are dealing in platitudes, 
one piously and the other with an ulterior motive; and all we 
can conclude about their platitudes from the events of the play 
is that the purpose of Jove and the status of his order remain 
hidden from beginning to end. 

The values that are openly exposed to our scrutiny are 
precisely those that Achilles and Troilus, until it is too late, seek 
and fail to find honor, greatness, and love. And for all that 
we can see, it is principally these values that hold the world 
together and make life bearable. These are no abstractions, 
though perhaps one could say they are implied in the platitudes 
of Agamemnon and the philosophical discourse of Ulysses; they 
are virtues realized in varying degree in many of the characters 
throughout the play, but to the greatest degree in Hector, who 
gives the play its norm and its meaning. Hector's recipe for 
honor is simple and practical: give Helen back to her husband; 
she is valuable to him but only a condemnation to us. His 
reply to Troilus, who would divorce princely honor from such 
practical considerations as this, stems directly from the core of 
wisdom upon which the play revolves: 

. . . value dwells not in particular will 
It holds its estimate and dignity 
As well wherein 'tis precious of itself 
As in the prizer. 'Tis mad idolatry 
To make the service greater than the god; 
And the will dotes that is inclineable 
To what infectiously itself affects, 
Without some image of the affected merit. 



It is possible, as Noble suggests, 5 that this passage has a con- 
nection with Jesus' denunciation of the Pharisees in Matthew 
xxm.19, "Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or 
the altar that sanctifieth the gift?' 7 In any event, it carries the 
same import: honor is not an end in itself, to be maintained 
abstractly and pridefully for the sake of one who would aspire 
to possess it; it is inseparable from the honorable deed here, 
giving back what has been wrongfully taken. Paris' proposal 
that they justify dishonorable taking by "honorable keeping 
her" (II.ii.146-162) prompts Hector to deliver a brief sermon 
on moral philosophy that parallels, and in practical wisdom goes 
well beyond, Ulysses' sermon on degree: 

The reasons you allege do more conduce 

To the hot passion of distempered blood 

Than to make up a free determination 

'Twixt right and wrong, for pleasure and revenge 

Have ears more deaf than adders to the voice 

Of any true decision. Nature craves 

All dues be rendered to their owners: now, 

What nearer debt in all humanity 

Than wife is to the husband? . . . 

If Helen then be wife to Sparta's king, 

As it is known she is, these moral laws 

Of nature and of nations speak aloud 

To have her back returned. Thus to persist 

In doing wrong extenuates not wrong, 

But makes it much more heavy. 


Yet Hector's way is too difficult for Paris and Troilus, who seek 
earthly greatness with their honor, and Hector declines to try to 
force them to be good: 

. . . Hector's opinion 
Is this in way of truth; yet ne'ertheless, 
My spritely brethren, I propend to you 
In resolution to keep Helen still, 


For 'tis a cause that hath no mean dependence 
Upon our joint and several dignities. 


Troilus 7 callous reply that follows this last announcement betrays 
a notion of greatness that is as insubstantial as his notion of 

Were it not glory that we more affected 
Than the performance of our heaving spleens, 
I would not wish a drop of Troyan blood 
Spent more in her defence. But worthy Hector, 
She is a theme of honor and renown, 
A spur to valiant and magnanimous deeds 
Whose present courage may beat down our foes, 
And fame in time to come canonize us; 
For, I presume, brave Hector would not lose 
So rich advantage of a promis'd glory 
As smiles upon the forehead of this action 
For the wide world's revenue. 


Yet the greatness Troilus seeks, and naively presumes his older 
brother would seek with him, is nothing to the greatness that 
has wisely tolerated his folly. Hector, true to his own doctrine, 
has not attempted the impossible. Having failed to encourage 
greatness of spirit in his brothers, he has not sought to compel 
them to do the thing that true greatness would require. Instead 
he has taken upon himself the responsibility for their persistence 
in folly; and by so doing, he has condemned himself to death. 

One might more properly say, however, that it is Troilus who 
has here condemned Hector to death; for without Troilus* 
eloquent but foolish insistence on continuing, Hector would 
very probably have overridden the objections of Paris and 
brought the war to an end. The particularly regrettable thing 
about Troilus' arguments in that crucial scene (ILii), however, 
is that they derive their fervor, at least partly, from his private 


attachment to the fickle Cressida. Troilus here is a young man 
with a fixation, incapable of distinguishing between what his 
own will ''infectiously itself affects' 7 and what is a true image of 
the affected merit; he cannot see what Cressida is for the 
Cressida he wants to see, and he romantically sees in Paris' 
attachment to Helen an attachment akin to that of his own 
adolescent imagining. Paris, of course, knows what such attach- 
ments as his own are, and describes them as compounded of hot 
blood, hot thoughts, and hot deeds; whereupon Pandarus, affect- 
ing mock surprise at Paris' description, asks these pregnant 
questions couched in terms curiously reminiscent of Scripture 
(Matthew xxm.33) : "Is this the generation of love, hot blood, 
hot thoughts, and hot deeds? Why, they are vipers. Is love a 
generation of vipers?" (III.ii.144-146). For Pandarus, this is all 
there is to love, be it a generation of vipers or of something else; 
and for Cressida, it is only a little more. She has a faint image 
of something better than sex, although, as she tells Troilus, she 
thinks it scarcely possible among men: "y u are wise, / Or else 
you love not, for to be wise and love / Exceeds man's might; 
that dwells with the gods above" (III.iii.162-164). Troilus 7 
reply, beginning "O that I thought it could be in a woman," 
is only rhetorically wistful, however; he does believe such love 
exists in at least one woman and is willing to stake his truth 
upon it. 

Such naivete as this is not altogether a bad thing. Troilus 
knows very little about the world and the men and women in it. 
He innocently imagines that honor is more real than being 
honorable and that loving is ecstatic desiring and possessing 
rather than giving away; yet, unlike Pandarus and Paris, he has 
not yet soured into cynicism. His love of honor, of glory, and 
of Cressida is the raw, selfish love of all adolescence; and that, 
if it can be preserved through the last storms of the possessor's 
growing up, may blossom into something lasting and good, like 
the love of Hector for Andromache at least, and perhaps like his 
near-divine love for mankind. Troilus, in short, is worth risking 
a lot for; and Hector, in a tragic action peripheral to the main 


action of this play, risks his life and loses it in order that his 
youngest brother may have the occasion for growth that he 
seeks. One may question whether this is his only motive. Part 
of his reason for giving in to Troilus is almost certainly a residual 
lust for military glory not unlike that he would save his brothers 
from, and the tragedy that results from this confusion of motives 
within him might have provided the action for another interest- 
ing play about the Trojan War. In Troilus and Cressida, how- 
ever, the tragic action is subsidiary, and our attention is focused 
upon the effect that Hector's action has upon Troilus. The 
primary action, as we have seen, is the disillusionment of Troilus; 
or, to be more specific, it is the story of a young man who 
cherished a false value at the expense of a good one and did not 
see the folly of his cherishing until he had brought the good 
one to destruction. Briefly, it is the killing of Hector. 

There is something Christlike about this man Hector, though 
it would be pretentious indeed to treat him as anything so 
magnificent as a type of Christ. For all his greatness, Hector 
shares some of the folly and meanness that he would eradicate 
in others. Once committed, he fights with all the vigor and 
savagery that are in him, and he dies with blood on his hands. 
Yet this is the man who would give every other man his due, 
who would urge his brothers to shun worldly greatness, who 
would end the war as an encounter unworthy of honest men. 
He is a man who loves and respects his enemies. His courtesy 
moves Ajax to say, "Thou art too gentle and too free a man" 
(I V.v.l 39). He offends Menelaus and begs pardon for it He 
respects Nestor's white hairs and embraces him. He responds 
to Achilles' insolence with a quick show of anger and then, as 
quickly repenting, takes his enemy's hand. In the field he can 
spare Thersites as one unworthy of the effort to slay ( V.iv.27-38) ; 
and he can spare Achilles when Achilles' arms are momentarily 
"out of use" ( 13-21). He respects his father and treats his 
brothers with almost incredible charity. The hotheaded argu- 
ments of Paris and Troilus, as we have seen, bring only the 
mildest of rebukes from him: 


Paris and Troilus, you have both said well, 
And on the cause and question now in hand 
Have gloz'd, but superficially; not much 
Unlike young men, whom Aristotle thought 
Unfit to hear moral philosophy. 


He even takes upon himself the responsibility for their folly 
and accepts the full consequences of it. 

This acceptance he never relinquishes, not even when Andro- 
mache and Cassendra do their best to dissuade him (V.iii.1-28); 
yet one of his last acts of peace is an attempt to persuade young 
Troilus to remain out of the fighting. 

Hect. No, faith, young Troilus; doff thy harness, 


I am to-day i' th' vein of chivalry. 
Let grow thy sinews till their knots be strong, 
And tempt not yet the brushes of the war. 
Unarm thee, go, and doubt thou not, brave boy, 
Fll stand to-day for thee and me and Troy. 

Tro. Brother, you have a vice of mercy in you, 
Which better fits a lion than a man. 

Hect. What vice is that, good Troilus? Chide 

me for it. 

Tro. When many times the captive Grecian 


Even in the fan and wind of your fair sword, 
You bid them rise, and live. 

Hect . O, 'tis fair play. 

Tro. Fool's play, by heaven, Hector. 

Hect. How now! how now! 

Tro. For th' love of all the gods, 
Let's leave the hermit Pity with our mothers, 
And when we have our armours buckled on, 
The venom'd vengeance ride upon our swords, 
Spur them to ruthful work, rein them from ruth. 

Hect. Fie, savage, fie! 



Troilus has again spoken better than he realizes. It is precisely 
this "vice of mercy/' this "fool's play/' that accounts for Hector's 
honor and greatness and demonstrates the love of humanity 
that is in him. 

Hector's death is only the death of a man, and there is no 
promise of a resurrection after it; but it is the death of a full 
man who has realized in his life both honor and greatness. It is, 
moreover, a sacrificial death, courageously ventured and accepted 
when it had become apparent that other men would not listen 
to less wasteful kinds of persuasion. Other men may very well 
question what good it does. Achilles apparently learns nothing 
from it; and, for all we know, Paris remains unenlightened. 
Troilus, however, who has already learned from his uncounter 
with Cressida that values without embodiment in human flesh 
are "Words, words, mere words, no matter from the heart" 
(V.iii.108), seems at least to know that now the world has lost 
its best hope: 

Hector is gone. 

Who shall tell Priam so, or Hecuba: 
Let him that will a screech-owl aye be call'd 
Go in to Troy and say there, ''Hector's dead!" 
There is a word will Priam turn to stone, 
Make wells and Niobes of the maids and wives, 
Cold statues of the youth, and, in a word, 
Scare Troy out of itself. But, march away. 
Hector is dead; there is no more to say. 


Whether Troilus is now capable of knowing what this action 
is all about, we cannot say. At the end of the play, however 
much he may value Hector and what he stood for, Troilus does 
not yet seem to know that it is he who has killed his brother, 
just as much as Achilles with his Myrmidons. 

The judgment upon the world that this play leaves with us 
is thus not altogether a pretty one. The best man in the world 
is dead, and the next best man does not quite seem to know 


why. Yet it is a familiar judgment. It can hardly be an accident 
that several of the Scriptural allusions in the play come from a 
single chapter in the Gospel of St. Matthew, the twenty-third, 
in which Jesus denounces the Pharisees for much the same 
reasons that Greeks and Trojans are here to be denounced and 
in some of the same terms. Jesus is telling the multitude at this 
point, "All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that 
observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and 
do not" (Matthew xxin.3). This touches at the very core of 
Shakespeare's play, which is rich in noble sentiments but rela- 
tively poor in noble deeds. It is applicable to Ulysses, whose 
noble sentiments are hardly matched by his crafty maneuvering; 
to Paris and Troilus, who speak well of honor and glory but 
would fight in a dishonorable cause; to Cressida, whose love, at 
least in Troilus* partial view, turned out to be, "Words, words, 
mere words, no matter from the heart/' It is beautifully summed 
up in Hector's " 'Tis mad idolatry / To make the service greater 
than the god; / And the will dotes that is inclineable / To what 
infectiously itself affects, / Without some image of the affected 
merit" (II.ii.56-60). And this, as we have seen, parallels Mat- 
thew xxin. 17. Hector's judgment on the warrior in sumptuous 
armor, his last victim, "Most putrefied core, so fair without," 
is a further reflection of the same sentiment and one that has 
a special parallel in Matthew xxm.27: "Woe unto you, scribes 
and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, 
which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of 
dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness." Pandarus* "genera- 
tion of vipers," moreover, is an allusion to the familiar passage 
a bit farther on in the same chapter: "Ye serpents, ye generation 
of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?" (xxm.33) . 
The conclusion of Jesus' denunciation, though not alluded to 
directly, also suggests Shakespeare's play: 

Wherefore, behold I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and 
scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of 
them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from 


city to city. That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed 
upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of 
Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and 
the altar. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon 
this generation. 

(Matthew xxm.34-36) 

Troilus and Cressida is not Hector's play, but Hector is the 
prophet in it, the only man on either side who had the wisdom 
to see the folly of what both sides were doing. The pathetic 
thing is that he found no one on either side who was prepared to 
receive his wisdom, and the war had to go on. Both sides, 
therefore, bear the responsibility for his death; and Greek and 
Trojan alike share the consequences of it. With no compelling 
image of honor or of greatness or of unselfish love left, the world 
of both is ripe for Pandarus and his kind. We may say, if we 
like, that Shakespeare meant this as a condemnation of Troilus' 
world and also meant it to apply to his own, but we probably 
miss the point of the play if we do. Granted that he did mean 
in some sense to equate England with the world of Trojans and 
Greeks, the most we can legitimately say is that he was delivering 
a warning to itand delivering a warning, moreover, in com- 
passion and love, just as Jesus delivered his warning to Jerusalem 
in compassion and love. For it is those allusions to Jesus' 
denunciation that emphasize the tone of Shakespeare's play and 
help us avoid jumping to unwarranted conclusions in our judg- 
ment of it. There are villains in both camps, to be sure; but 
most of the principal characters, if studied carefully, evoke our 
pity rather than our disgust. They are not villains, but men of 
misdirected good, half-considered motives, and limited vision. 
In telling how these men forfeited the opportunity that one 
clear-sighted man made available to them, Shakespeare may very 
well have meant to equate his own England with the misty 
world of Trojan and Greek and both, through his allusions, 
with the Jerusalem of Jesus. If so, he was saying simply what 
satirists have always said, that the world does not greatly change 


from one age to the next, that in any age the world is likely to 
have its representatives of Troilus and Pandarus, Agamemnon 
and Thersites, and that occasionally it is lucky enough to get 
someone like Hector, whom more often than not it either 
repudiates or crucifies. This is a sober view, but not necessarily 
a bitter one. Thersites is a fool and certainly does not speak for 
Shakespeare; and Pandarus, however much he may seem to be 
on top at the end, has no guarantee of permanent dominion in 
a world that at heart despises him. 


INGE THE appearance of G. Wilson Knight's Wheel of Fire 
in 1930, Christian interpretations of Measure for Measure have 
appeared with surprising frequency. Among the more interesting 
ones that have been put forward are those by R. W. Chambers, 
Roy W. Battenhouse, Elizabeth M. Pope, and Nevill Coghill; 1 
and all these writers have based their work upon an assumption, 
based in turn upon their consideration of the play, that Shake- 
speare here studied George Whetstone's Promos and Cassandra 
(1578) and reworked it in terms of recognizably orthodox 
Christian presuppositions. Miss Pope, who examines the play 
with reference to Renaissance commentary on some of those 
presuppositions, explicitly declines to hazard any opinion about 
Shakespeare's private view of them; but the other three inter- 
preters, though somewhat less explicit in this matter, have been 
equally cautious. All, including Wilson Knight, have been at 
pains to let us see the play as a contemporary of Shakespeare's 
might have seen it, or at least to put us in a position where our 
view of the play will be unobstructed by the special presupposi- 
tions of our own time. As might have been expected, some of 
their interpretations have prompted spirited objections. Knight's 
battery of Biblical quotations, for example, and Battenhouse's 


rich collection of citations from both the Bible and the works 
of Christian Fathers have often moved objectors to say that 
Shakespeare could not possibly have had so much in mind. 
To dismiss the work of these men in this fashion is to miss their 
whole point. They have not claimed to be giving us source 
studies. No one has tried to accuse Shakespeare of being a 
bibliolater or of seeking access to a library of commentaries 
comparable to that of Professor Battenhouse. The point is that 
Shakespeare, unlike ourselves, got at sometime during his life 
the substance of such things as part of his daily intellectual 
bread. He was habituated to them, as we for better or for 
worse are not, and could draw upon them unreflectingly as we 
draw upon the political commonplaces that are fed to us from 
our infancy. 

An alternative to such studies as these, frequently cited as 
a simple and commonsense one, is the study of the play as play. 
Miss Helen Gardner recommends it in her high praise of Miss 
Mary Lascelles' Shakespeare's "Measure for Measure" (London, 
1953), in which she finds a commendable concentration upon 
"the characters in their relation with one another here con- 
ditioned by the given story, there, developing free of it" 2 She 
adds, "Her reward, and ours, is to be left at the end of her book 
not with themes and patterns but with the play/' This common- 
sense alternative, however, has grave limitations; it encourages 
no recognition of the play as poem and leaves us incapable of 
distinguishing between a rich collection of data ingeniously put 
together in dramatic form and a dramatic poem richly and 
truly made, embodying more values than the mere sum of its 
parts, mysteriously reaching out to re-create, and thus make 
meaningful, fragments of experience that its author may never 
have dreamed of. In our saner moments we all admit that our 
criticism of Shakespeare is poor stuff compared with the plays 
themselves; and we readily allow that the themes, patterns, and 
analogs by which some recent critics have oriented their study 
of Shakespeare's works are not to be taken as the only essential 
ingredients of his plays. In themselves they are merely modes 


of grasping the unifying action by which the play exists as a 
living creation. Good critics from Aristotle's time to the present 
have known and made use of these modes; but articulate recog- 
nition of them is one of the great contributions that modern 
critics of poetry and drama have made to the popular appre- 
hension of dramatic poetry. We are foolish to reject them 

One begins the study of a play, naturally and properly, in 
the manner suggested by Miss Lascelles and praised by Miss 
Gardner, by concentrating upon the characters in their relation 
with one another. But if one lets it go at that, if one does not 
either intuitively or by conscious analysis arrive at some unifying 
action that can show plot, character, and diction all moving 
together toward a common end, one has at best a fascinating 
study in human relations. Shakespeare gives us such studies, 
over and over again in his works; we can take that much of his 
offering and feel richly fed. But some, in feeding on this much, 
have sensed and found much more. Even in Troilus and 
Cressida, which unlike most plays presents a seemingly mean- 
ingless world for our inspection, it has been possible for sensitive 
readers to detect a meaningful shape which belies the desperate 
cry of its protagonist. The primary obligation of the critic, 
once he has become convinced that a play has such a shape, is 
to make it clear to other readers in as explicit terms as he can 
find. Sometimes he may feel it necessary to set forth an elaborate 
pattern and explain it in detail; sometimes he may find it more 
expedient to state what he considers to be the unifying theme 
of the play. Sometimes he may make use of analogs or relevant 
quotations from other works. The method that he uses is not 
half so important as his objective, which must always be to lead 
us back to the play and make it possible for us to see it as a 
significant whole. Thus Wilson Knight finds in the Scriptural 
passage from which the title of Measure for Measure seems to 
have been taken (Matthew vn.l) words that express briefly the 
unity which his own careful reading has caused him to see: 
"Judge not that ye be not judged." Feeling the inadequacy 


of that (for no formulation is really adequate ), he brings up a 
rich collection of related passages all pointing in one way or 
another to the same end, and concludes by saying, "The simplest 
way to focus correctly the quality and unity of Measure for 
Measure is to read it on the analogy of Jesus' parables." 3 
Similarly the late R. W. Chambers, in a less elaborate presenta- 
tion of the results of his reading, chose another passage from 
the Gospel of St. Matthew as the best approximation of what 
he felt to be the unifying principle of the play: "He that findeth 
his life shall lose it; and he that loseth his life for my sake shall 
find it" (Matthew x.39). 4 Battenhouse, going at the problem in 
a slightly different fashion from either of these, suggests that the 
play be read as if it were itself a parable, one illustrating the 
Christian story of the Atonement with all its mystery and 
paradox. 5 And Nevill Coghill suggests that we read it in the 
light of the paradox of the fortunate fall, the test by which man 
perennially fails being contained in Jesus' injunction, "Let your 
light so shine before men that they may see your good works and 
glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matthew v.16). 6 To 
borrow a phrase from Wilson Knight, one might best call all 
these studies attempts at "reconstruction of a vision," 7 observing 
that to call them attempts is not to belittle them. None of these 
is complete or finally satisfying, nor should any be expected to 
be; for, no matter how clever the critic is, he always leaves 
something unexplored in the play to mock his themes, pattern, 
analogies, or even analyses. For that reason I venture here to 
suggest still another formulation of the action of Measure for 
Measure, one that takes into special account some of the human 
relationships that commonsense critics would have us observe. 

Let us consider first the character of Duke Vincentio, for it 
is his action that prompts and defines all the others. He is, of 
course, a human being, a man of flesh and blood, differing only 
in degree from the other human beings in the play. He claims 
for himself that sum of human virtues, completeness. When 
Friar Thomas asks whether he has come to the monastery to 
assuage the pangs of love, he replies: 


No, holy father; throw away that thought. 
Believe not that the dribbling dart of love 
Can pierce a complete bosom. 


Escalus, who knows him better than any of the others, appar- 
ently agrees. To the Duke in disguise he describes his lord as 
"Rather rejoicing to see another merry than merry at anything 
which profess'd to make him rejoice; a gentleman of all temper- 
ance" (III.ii.249-251); and on the same occasion he ascribes 
to him the inevitable corollary of completeness, the quest for 
self-knowledge: "One that, above all other strifes, contended 
especially to know himself (III.ii.246-247). As might be ex- 
pected, the Duke is a man who loves solitude better than 
assemblies (I.ii.8-9) , but he has never made a practice of selfishly 
absenting himself from his people, whom he genuinely loves, 
not for their adulation but for themselves (I.i.68-71). He has 
been diligent in their service for fourteen years according to his 
own testimony (I.iii.21 though Claudio says nineteen, I.ii.172); 
he has ruled them like a fond father, with laws meant for their 
own good but too often used only to threaten them (I.iii.23-31); 
and he has seen them run with the liberty he has given them 
straight toward their own destruction: 

... I have seen corruption boil and bubble 

Till it o'er-run the stew; laws for all faults, 

But faults so countenanced, that the strong statutes 

Stand like the forfeits in a barber's shop, 

As much in mock as mark. 


He knows what they are, yet he loves them; and he has set 
about in his own way, which is no usual way, to bring them back 
to moral and spiritual health. 

To Escalus, who does not recognize him and hence misses 
much of the import of what he says, the Duke states his objec- 
tion in riddling fashion: "there is so great a fever on goodness, 


that the dissolution of it must cure it" (III.ii.235-236). This 
reflection of the paradox of the fortunate fall, coming from the 
lips of one who is presumably in holy orders, passes as a bit of 
conventional Christian sententiousness, and the Duke concludes 
by making an even more sententious general application of it, 
"Much upon this riddle runs the wisdom of the world. This 
news is old enough, yet it is every day's news" (III.ii.242-244). 
Holy orders or no, the Duke could not have spoken much 
better, or given a better formulation of the action of the play. 
Vienna cannot get well without coming to recognize her own 
incompleteness, and she cannot recognize that incompleteness 
without passing through a nightmarish corruption of what good- 
ness she has. Her destiny differs in no essential way from our 
own in that we, though we are continually enjoined to be good, 
are continually advised that we cannot be good of our own will 
to be good. Jesus' command is pertinent here: "Be ye therefore 
perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" 
(Matthew v.48) . This does not suggest that we can reach sinless 
perfection on our own, but it does require of us the essential 
effort toward maturity of righteousness without which we can- 
not possibly know our limitations as creatures. Thus "Be ye 
perfect" represents the Duke's goal for Vienna, for Angelo, and 
for all the others. He knows that all of them must come to see 
that the innate corruption of their goodness, like that of the 
world at large, can be cured only by their recognition of the 
utter inability of human goodness to stand alone; he does not 
expect them to achieve this recognition without a good deal 
of his own private maneuvering in their behalf. The encom- 
passing action of the play is the achievement of goodness, but 
it is in no sense an achievement by way of simple purgation. 
Mariana makes the classic statement of the principle involved. 
"They say," she observes, "best men are moulded out of faults, / 
And, for the most, become much more the better / For being 
a little bad" (V.i.444446). This, whether intentionally Chris- 
tian or not on Shakespeare's part, is the design he has allotted 
to the Duke, who is largely his own creation, for the regeneration 


of Vienna. And it works, to perfection. We may take the 
success of this design as further evidence of the Duke's complete- 
ness as a man, and as evidence also of Shakespeare's acceptance 
of it as a legitimate solution for the problems of his plot. 

All the other characters in the play must be measured by the 
Duke. Some of these do not measure up at all young Dizzy 
perhaps, Master Starvelackey the rapier and dagger man, young 
Drop-heir that killed Lusty Pudding, and others among Pompey's 
friends in prison. Pompey measures up slightly better than 
these, having been diligent in at least a ''stinking trade" and 
showed a willingness to change for a more respectable one. 
Mistress Overdone has at least enough charity to see that Lucio's 
bastard is taken care of, and Barnardine has grace enough to 
know when he is unprepared to die. These last three represent 
the lower extremity of the range of the salvageable, but they 
are worth working and hoping for. Juliet and Mariana, passive 
victims of the carelessness or indifference of others, are much 
higher in the moral scale; and Mariana in the end manages to 
leave her passiveness and plead actively for the pardon of one 
who has her love but has not deserved it. Much higher still are 
Escalus and the Provost, men of limited vision and almost no 
imagination, but temperate, full of respect for their lord's law, 
and loyal to a fault. In all these we see a representation of the 
majority of Vienna's inhabitants in cross section, but they do 
not represent her best hope. 

Of those who do represent her best hope, Claudio is the least 
significant. Yet it is he who stands throughout most of the 
play in danger of his life, and it is through him that we see the 
stages whereby one comes to know that to preserve life is not 
necessarily to have life. He begins by commendably recognizing 
that he has abused his God-given freedom: 

. . . too much liberty, my Lucio, liberty. 
As surfeit is the father of much fast, 
So every scope by the immoderate use 
Turns to restraint. Our natures do pursue, 


Like rats that ravin down their proper bane, 
A thirsty evil; and when we drink we die. 


He is willing to acknowledge that his sin may be called lechery 
(I.ii.143-144). He acknowledges, too, the "enrolled penalties" 
by which he stands condemned; but he betrays his human frailty 
when he murmers that Angelo "for a name, / Now puts the 
drowsy and neglected act / Freshly on me. 'Tis surely for a 
name" (I.ii.173-175). This unsatisfactory state of mind he 
betrays to the Duke, disguised as Friar Lodowick. "The miser- 
able have no other medicine / But only hope," he says. "I've 
hope to live, and am prepared to die" (III.i.2-4). He needs 
medicine of another sort, and the Duke administers it at once 
in the form of his "Be absolute for death" speech (III.i.5-41), 
which is so familiar that it scarcely needs quoting here. The 
important things to note about this speech are that it is a 
collection of truisms and that, as medicine, it does not work; for 
Claudio at this point scarcely comprehends the fate that seems 
certainly in store for him. Almost as soon as Isabella has 
delivered her report about Angelo's proposal, he falls again into 
the fear of death, this time a real fear bordering on despair, and 
delivers his own famous setpiece ending, 

The weariest and most loathed worldly life 
That age, ache, penury, and imprisonment 
Can lay on nature is a paradise 
To what we fear of death. 


It remains for the Duke, with a charitable white lie about 
Angelo's intentions toward Isabella, to remove Claudio's dis- 
creditable hope that he may receive a pardon as a result of his 
sister's shame and bring him face to face with the fact of death, 
so that Claudio can finally say, this time with real conviction, 
"Let me ask my sister pardon. I am so out of love with life 
that I will sue to be rid of it" (III.i.173-174). 


Whether Claudio can or will develop beyond this point 
toward a state of completeness like the Duke's is a question 
not explored in this play; but his seesaw development in that 
direction illustrates the pattern by which the growth of the 
other two principals will proceed, and his predicament provides 
the occasion for growth for both of them. When we first see 
Isabella, she has turned her back upon the world and is about 
to enter a nunnery. Even Lucio's extraordinarily serious plea on 
Claudio's behalf at first only moves her to say, "Alas! what poor 
ability's in me / To do him good?" (Liv.75-76). A bit later, 
having agreed to "see what she can do," she pleads but weakly 
until Lucio prods her to a tack that catches her imagination 
and makes her plead in earnest: 

I would to heaven I had your potency, 
And you were Isabel! Should it then be thus? 
No; I would tell what 'twere to be a judge, 
And what a prisoner. 


What she is really trying to tell him is what it means to be a 
complete man. When Angelo tries to take refuge in the law, 
the preservation of which he has mistakenly taken to be his 
sole function as deputy ("Your brother is a forfeit of the law, / 
And you but waste your words"), she reminds him of one who 
was the fulfillment of law: 

Why, all the souls that were were forfeit once; 
And he that might the vantage best have took 
Found out the remedy. How would you be 
If He, which is the top of judgement, should 
But judge you as you are? O, think on that; 
And mercy then will breathe within your lips, 
Like man new made. 


Angelo continues to avoid the implications of her point: "It is 
the law, not I condemn your brother" (II.ii.80). But she will 


not let him rest. Enforcement of the law will deter future 
misdeeds, he argues; and she reminds him of pity. Pity and 
justice are the same, he replies; and she accuses him of tyranny. 
Her final thrust is the most effective of all, and it brings results: 

Go to your bosom: 

Knock there, and ask your heart what it doth know 
That's like my brother's fault. If it confess 
A natural guiltiness such as is his, 
Let it not sound a thought upon your tongue 
Against my brother's life. 

(II.ii.1 36-141) 

This speech should immediately call to mind Matthew v.28, 
"But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust 
after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart"; 
and a similar passage in the Gospel of St. John (vm.7), in which 
Jesus rebuked those who would condemn the woman taken in 
adultery, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast 
a stone at her/' It is, moreover, the same kind of appeal as 
Jesus'; for it is an appeal to Angelo to recognize and accept the 
full range of his humanity. That it works to Isabella's im- 
mediate disadvantage is beside the point; it works according to 
the pattern she herself has suggested ("And He that might 
the vantage best have took / Found out the remedy"), subtly 
turning Angelo inward to depths within his soul of which she 
in her naivete is unaware, so that he may eventually know he 
stands in need of forgiveness and mercy. 

At any rate, Isabella's first encounter with Angelo is something 
of a moral victory; and when we next see her, her self-confidence 
betrays her into a remark scarcely worthy of her calling. Angelo, 
unknown to Isabella, has decided to act according to the baser 
elements of his nature and immediately begins a riddling 
assault upon her chastity that succeeds in trapping her before 
she realizes what is happening. "It were as good," he says, "To 
pardon him that hath from nature stol'n / A man already made 
as to remit / Their saucy sweetness that do coin Heaven's 


image / In stamps that are forbid" (II.iii.42-46). Her reply 
is as startling as it is indefensible: "Tis set down so in heaven, 
but not in earth/' This is precisely the attitude that the Duke 
in allowing Angelo's legalism full play has been at pains to 
eradicate. To say that mercy transcends the law is one thing; 
to say that human deviation from the law is excusable is quite 
another. Isabella, in her attempt to defend Claudio, has here 
slipped to his level; and Angelo takes advantage of her slip to 
come into the open with his bargaining. It is incorrect to say 
that he asks her to do no more than Claudio did; he asks a 
great deal more. Claudio and Juliet loved one another and 
lacked only the formality of a proper marriage. Angelo lusts 
after chaste flesh, and Isabella as far as we know lusts not at all. 
Nevertheless, Isabella, having wandered onto shaky ground, 
resists her would-be seducer with shaky argument. "Lawful 
mercy," she goes so far as to say, "Is nothing kin to foul redemp- 
tion" (II.iv.112-113). Angelo quickly recognizes that this is the 
same error that he himself made in their previous meeting and 
teases her for trying to circumscribe mercy by the law. Isabella 
is now on the defensive: 

O, pardon me, my lord. It oft falls out, 
To have what we would have, we speak not 

what we mean. 

I something do excuse the thing I hate, 
For his advantage that I dearly love. 


"We are all frail," replies Angelo with misplaced sententiousness. 
His is a frailty for men to deplore; Isabella's, a frailty coupled 
with a recognition of her human tendency to err and a request 
for pardon. 

As the play proceeds, we come to wish that she would not lose 
sight of this human tendency. Her behavior in the scene with 
Claudio, however understandable, is regrettable. Claudio has 
barely tasted the sweetness of life and for that taste stands to 


lose all the rest of it. His youthful plea for preservation at any 
cost hardly deserves the bitter condemnation that his sister 
gives it: 

O you beast! 

faithless coward! O dishonest wretch! 
Wilt thou be made a man out of my vice? 
Is't not a kind of incest to take life 
From thine own sister's shame? 

Her spiritual nadir and his coincide as she concludes: 

I'll pray a thousand prayers for thy death, 
No word to save thee. . . . 
Thy sin's not accidental, but a trade. 
Mercy to thee would prove itself a bawd; 
Tis best that thou diest quickly. 


It remains for the Duke to bring her back to spiritual sanity by 
reminding her that chastity and goodness are not attributes of 
her own devising: 

The hand that hath made you fair hath made 
you good; the goodness that is cheap in beauty 
makes beauty brief in goodness; but grace, be- 
ing the soul of your complexion, shall keep 
the body of it ever fair. 


This softens her pride but does not altogether cure it When 
the Duke asks her what she will do next, she says that she will 
go back and "resolve" her brother, adding: 

1 had rather my brother die by the law than my 
son should be unlawfully born. But, O, how 
much is the good Duke deceived in Angelo! If 


ever he return and I can speak to him, I will 
open my lips in vain, or discover his govern- 


Revenge thus remains just below the surface of her consciousness 
for most of the rest of the play a fact that the Duke recognizes 
when, as Friar Lodowick, he tells her that her brother is dead 
and advises her as follows: 

If you can, pace your wisdom 
In that good path that I would wish it go, 
And you shall have your bosom on this wretch, 
Grace of the Duke, revenges to your heart, 
And general honour. 

(IV.iiU 37-141) 

Nevertheless, it is not Isabella who brings herself back to 
health, but the whole operation of the Duke's design: Claudio's 
supposed death, Angelo's exposure and condemnation, and, 
above all, Mariana's active defense of Angelo with her simple 
enunciation of the great truth upon which the action of the play 

They say best men are moulded out of faults, 
And, for the most, become much more the better 
For being a little bad; so may my husband. 


To this Isabella "lends a knee 77 and on her knees faces the whole 
truth, about Claudio, about Angelo, and about herself: 

Most bounteous sir, 

Look, if it please you, on this man condemned 
As if my brother liv'd. I partly think 
A due sincerity governed his deeds, 
Till he did look on me. Since it is so, 
Let him not die. My brother had but justice, 
In that he did the thing for which he died; 


For Angelo, 

His act did not overtake his bad intent, 
And must be buried but as an intent 
That perish'd by the way. Thoughts are no 

Intents, but merely thoughts. 


We may be reminded that Jesus condemned the thought as 
much as the deed, but Isabella is not Jesus. She is, moreover, 
arguing before a court of civil law. Thus she follows Jesus' 
command to mortals, from which the title of this play is taken: 
"Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what measure ye 
mete, it shall be measured to you again" (Matthew vii.1-2). In 
the course of things she has condemned, or judged, both Claudio 
and Angelo; now with the charity proper to mortals she refrains 
from judgment, leaving the exercise of mercy, which she humbly 
requests, to a higher power. From this point on, she is worthy 
to share the dukedom, if she will, and all its benefits. 

Angelo's story begins earlier and ends later than either 
Claudio's or Isabella's; and he begins, moreover, with a full 
complement of talents election by his lord, rule of Vienna, 
with mercy and mortality combined in one dominion (I.i.45). 
That he himself does not know the range of his potentialities 
and innocently confounds mercy with mortality, eventually 
becoming indifferent to mercy and contemptuous of the law he 
himself has imposed, is no discredit to Duke Vincentio's superior 
wisdom. The Duke has "with a leaven'd and prepared choice" 
proceeded to Angelo, and he knows what Angelo will do: 

There is a kind of character in thy life, 
That to the observer doth thy history 
Fully unfold. 


That is, to an observer like the Duke. For the Duke knows 
Angelo's formidable limitations, which the others do not suspect, 


as well as his impressive virtues. Yet Angelo is "a man of 
stricture and firm abstinence" (I.iii.12), and the Duke needs 
just such a man to act as Vienna's scourge. Moreover, as he 
further points out, Angelo's virtues need exercise: 

... for if our virtues 
Did not go forth of us, 'twere all alike 
As if we had them not. Spirits are not 

finely touched 

But to fine issues, nor Nature never lends 
The smallest scruple of her excellence 
But, like a thrifty goddess, she determines 
Herself the glory of a creditor, 
Both thanks and use. 


It is as important to Angelo as it is to the Duke and Vienna that 
his special virtues be allowed to develop and mature. 

The Duke sees well enough the Angelo whom most of the 
world sees, one whom Lucio ignorantly describes as 

a man whose blood 

Is very snow-broth, one who never feels 
The wanton stings and motions of the sense, 
But doth rebate and blunt his natural edge 
With profits of the mind, study, and fast. 


He can appreciate the estimate of Escalus, who says, "my brother 
justice have I found so severe, that he hath forc'd me to tell 
him he is indeed justice" (III.ii.266-268). To this the Duke 
replies simply, "If his own life answer the straitness of his 
proceeding, it shall become him well; wherein if he chance to 
fail, he hath sentenced himself (III.ii.269-271). But the Duke 
also knows an Angelo whom Lucio and Escalus have missed, 
so that when Isabella reports on Angelo's attempt to seduce her, 
he expresses no surprise: "The assault that Angelo hath made to 


you, fortune hath convey'd to my understanding; and, but that 
frailty hath examples for his failing, I should wonder at Angelo" 
(IIU188-191). This is the Angelo who has by this time 
experienced dismay at the discovery of the corruptness of his 
own nature: 

It is I 

That, lying by the violet in the sun, 
Do as the carrion does, not as the flower, 
Corrupt with virtuous season. . . . 
What dost thou, or what are thou, Angelo? 

. . . Ever till now, 
When men were fond, I smil'd and wond'red how. 


This is the Angelo who has lost the knack for prayer (II.iv.1-5), 
who has found in his heart only the "strong and swelling evil of 
his conception" (6-7), and who has learned that his much 
vaunted gravity is really no better than "an idle plume / Which 
the air beats for vain" (11-12). Ironically, this is the same 
Angelo who in the beginning begged the Duke to make some 
test of his metal "Before so noble and so great a figure / Be 
stamp'd upon it" (I.i.50-51). This request of Angelo's is as 
human as everything else about him. It is the perennial request 
of uninitiated human beings, who know original sin only from 
their catechism and who allow readily that completeness is 
everything but naively imagine that it can be achieved by simple 
addition. "What figure of us think you he will bear?" asks the 
Duke of Escalus and attendant lords (I.i.17), but he does not 
need to test Angelo in order to find out the answer. Measure for 
Measure is not a play about human testing in this sense. It is a 
play about human perfecting, and the method of that perfecting 
is at least as old as Adam. 

Angelo's course exhibits the same seesaw movement as the 
others. He comes out of the first encounter with Isabella 
knowing that he is corrupt, yet in the second he behaves more 
abominably than ever. When Isabella seemingly grants his 


request of her, he breaks faith with her and tries to kill Claudio 
with all possible haste. When he thinks Isabella deflowered 
and Claudio dead, he not only wishes the deeds were undone but 
sees clearly why they were done: "Alack, when once our grace 
we have forgot, / Nothing goes right; we would, and we would 
not" (IV.iv.36-37) . Yet even this does not prevent his accepting 
the Duke's invitation to try Isabella on charges that he thinks 
to be false (V.i.163-167), and it does not prevent his hypo- 
critically putting on his old gravity to denounce Mariana, the 
truth of whose story he undoubtedly sees: 

I did but smile till now. 

Now, good my lord, give me the scope of justice. 
My patience here is touch'd. I do perceive 
These poor informal women are no more 
But instruments of some more mightier member 
That sets them on. Let me have way, my lord, 
To find this practice out. 


And the Duke gives him "way" to pursue the matter to the end. 
The thing that makes Angelo salvageable is that when he 
comes really to know his lord, he does not try to lie to him. His 
first words after Lucio has pulled aside the friar's hood are: 

O my dread lord, 

I should be guiltier than my guiltiness, 
To think I can be undiscernible, 
When I perceive your Grace, like power divine, 
Hath look'd upon my passes. Then, good Prince, 
No longer session hold upon my shame, 
But let my trial be mine own confession, 
Immediate sentence, then, and sequent death 
Is all the grace I beg. 


From this point on, Angelo is all contrition and obedience. To 
make what amends he can, he marries Mariana, he accepts the 


sentence of death imposed upon him, and he confesses his faults 
to his brother deputy, Escalus (V.i.479-482). His completeness 
at what he presumes to be the end of his life merits for him 
the renewal of his life, not as a matter of right but as a gift of 
mercy. The dissolution of Angelo's "goodness" thus has cured 
the evil that made that goodness accursed. "Well, Angelo," 
says the Duke, "your evil quits you well" (V.i.501). In him the 
ancient paradox of the fortunate fall has been proved once more; 
and if we reject that, we must also reject Shakespeare's play. 

"And yet there's one in place," continues the Duke, "I cannot 
pardon." That one, of course, is Lucio, who has long stood as 
something of a problem for critics. Nevill Coghill makes the 
interesting suggestion that Lucio has about him overtones of 
Satan the tester as he appears in the Book of Job. 8 Lucio's 
principal business in the play, Coghill says, is to lead Isabella 
into temptation; thereafter he devotes most of his attention to 
being rude to the Duke, about whose disguise he seems to know 
something that the others do not. In Act III he says pointedly 
to the disguised Duke, "It was a mad fantastical trick of him 
to steal from the state, and usurp the beggary he was never 
born to" (III.ii.98-100). And at the end of the play, after the 
Duke has condemned him for slander, he says, "Faith, my lord, 
I spoke it but according to the trick" (V.i.509-510). The point 
to be made here, however, is not that Lucio has fenown the Duke 
in disguise all along but that he has half suspected him all along. 
Thus if Lucio is really the tester, it is only the Duke whom he 
tests in this play; and Lucio does not get his answer until he 
rips away the friar's hood. He begins with pointed questions, 
follows these with his cryptic remark about "beggary he was 
never born to," and, when that produces nothing, proceeds to 
make cutting remarks about Angelo. These the Duke as friar 
rejects with, "You are pleasant, sir, and speak apace" (III.ii.120). 
Seeing that these too have failed, Lucio makes his assault upon 
the character of the Duke, first with a lie about the Duke's 
inclination toward women and then with a whole pack of lies, 
ending with "A very superficial, ignorant, unweighing fellow" 


(Ill.ii. 147-148). To this the Duke replies with a judgment that 
grows heavier as the play and Lucio's lying proceed: 

Either this is envy in you, folly, or mistaking. 
The very stream of his life and the business he 
hath helmed must, upon a warranted need, give 
him a better proclamation. Let him be but 
testimonied in his own bringings-forth, and he 
shall appear to the envious a scholar, a states- 
man, and a soldier. Therefore you speak un- 
skillfully; or if your knowledge be more it is 
much darkened in your malice. 


There are several escape holes for Lucio in this speech, but he 
rejects them all: 

Lucio. Sir, I know him, and I love him. 
Duke. Love talks with better knowledge, 
and knowledge with dearer love. 
Lucio. Come, sir, I know what I know. 

(IILii.l 58-161) 

With these affirmations, in themselves lies, he stands con- 
demned. Thereafter he follows Friar Lodowick about, sticking 
like an unwelcome burr, irritating as he goes ( I V.iii. 189-190). 
The Duke, who in all the action of this play is forced to deal 
with problems of seduction, murder, and frail despair, is moved 
to complain only once, and that once about just this sort of 

O place and greatness! millions of false eyes 
Are stuck upon thee. Volumes of report 
Run with these false and most contrarious quests 
Upon thy doings; thousand escapes of wit 
Make thee the father of their idle dream 
And rack thee in their fancies. 



These are indeed the burrs that stick and are no good to anyone. 
They are condemned here, in Lucio their present exemplar, 
just as they are condemned by Jesus in the last chapter of the 
Bible: "For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, 
and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh 
a lie" ((Revelation xxn.15). For Lucio and his kind there is 
recognition of their lord but no knowledge of him, no pardon, 
and no place hereafter in his dukedom. Whether Satan or not, 
Lucio is the incorrigible maker of lies; and from such evil as 
his no good can possibly come. 

The decision of the Duke to return and make himself known 
to those who truly love him is marked by one of the most 
beautiful passages in the play. Having shown the Provost his 
seal and persuaded him to delay the death of Claudio, he 

Look, the unfolding star calls up the shepherd. 
Put not yourself into amazement how these 
things should be. All difficulties are but easy 
when they are known. . . . Yet you are amaz'd, 
but this shall absolutely resolve you. Come 
away; it is almost clear dawn. 


Battenhouse cites as a pertinent parallel to this passage Romans 
xin.11-12, which, as he notes, announces the beginning of 
Advent in both the Roman and the Anglican uses: "And that, 
knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of 
sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. 
The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast 
off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of 
light/' 9 I have quoted a bit more here than Battenhouse quotes 
because I find, not only these two verses, but the entire thirteenth 
chapter of Romans particularly relevant to Measure for Measure. 
It was a chapter especially dear to English rulers, clerical and 
secular, because it advised obedience to proper authority as the 
starting point of Christian ethics. "Let every soul be subject 


unto the higher powers/' it begins. "For there is no power but 
of God; the powers that be are ordained of God." Four more 
verses in this vein are followed by two verses (6-7) exhorting 
men to "Render therefore to all their dues/' after which come 
a summary of the Commandments and a statement and 
amplification of Jesus' second commandment: "Thou shalt love 
thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: 
therefore love is the fulfilling of the law" (9-10). This is the 
preamble to those verses already quoted as a pertinent parallel 
to the Duke's observation about the approaching dawn. The 
conclusion of the matter, in Paul's words (verse 14) is, "put ye 
on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the 
flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof." Bishop Hooper of Gloucester, 
writing in 1551, explained as follows his reason for requiring 
the ministers at his cathedral to teach the thirteenth chapter of 
Romans in its entirety once a week: 

First, St. Paul perceiveth that the grace and promises of God 
cannot be known of man, until such time as he be brought to 
acknowledge and displeasure of his sins. The physician and physic 
be unprofitable unto such as know not that they be sick, as Christ 
said, "I come not to call the just, but sinners to repentance." 
Therefore we must know the wound of our souls and the sickness 
of sin, before we can get any profit by the grace of God. We must 
confess that all men and women, except Christ, are bom the 
children of ire and of God's displeasure; and that we bear about in 
us sin, that always repugneth the Spirit, whereby we are ascertained 
that we be always subject unto sin; as St. Paul saith, "He concluded 
all men under sin, because he might have mercy upon all." Seeing 
we be all sinners, and "the reward of sin is death," St. Paul's 
conclusion, where he saith "We are bom all the children of God's 
displeasure," is true. How then may we be delivered from this great 
ire and displeasure? By the mercy of God the Father towards us, 
that first loved us, ere we loved him, whiles we were yet his 
enemies. 10 

Bishop Hooper's preamble is in itself an apt statement of the 
central theme and action of Measure for Measure. It is a 


collection of commonplaces, to be sure; but it is a Christian 
collection and one that should make us additionally cautious 
about dismissing entirely the view that Shakespeare here recast 
a stodgily moralistic story in the context of an orthodox Christian 
vision. For all its secular interest, Shakespeare's play is the story 
of a ruler who concluded all his subjects under sin, so that those 
who would might come to recognize the wound of their own 
souls, cast off the works of darkness, and know by experience 
their need for his abounding mercy. As such, Measure for 
Measure is distinctively Christian, as Promos and Cassandra is 

"It is open to us to see what analogies we care to see," writes 
Miss Gardner; 11 but she says nothing about those analogies 
that cry out for our attention. To Miss M. C. Bradbrook the 
play suggested the moralities, 12 and no wonder. The composite 
story of Claudio, Isabella, and Angelo is the medieval story of 
humanum genus re-created in particular flesh and blood with an 
appropriate time and setting. To Battenhouse, whose training 
in theology has made him sensitive to nuances of meaning that 
most of us would have missed, it participates by analogy in the 
timeless story of the Atonement, never ceasing to be a tale of 
Vienna but always suggesting a great deal more. And part of 
that "more" is certainly the whole range of historical time 
itself, as Christians in Shakespeare's day understood it and as 
many Christians still understand it: the stage whereon man falls 
from grace, comes to know himself under the dispensation of 
Mosaic law, and finds redemption at last under a dispensation 
of grace with the return of his Lord in the full light of morning. 
Most men in our time would not write such a play as this one; 
but then, most men in Shakespeare's time did not write such 
plays either. Whetstone's unperformed Promos and Cassandra, 
which suffers by comparison with what Shakespeare made of it, 
remains for us an interesting but impotent antique. Shakespeare, 
who at least ever since Richard II had been using analogies to 
ring into his work an increasingly wide range of human aware- 
ness, here came incredibly close to encompassing the whole 


scope of man's moral development. He had already done 
something of this kind in The Merchant of Venice. Later, in 
The Winter's Tale, he was to make still another story serve as 
an analogy for much the same field, with more sublety and even 
more effectiveness. Critics, on the whole, have been kinder to 
these two plays than they have to Measure for Measure, perhaps 
because they find it easier to read them as pleasant romances. 
The story of Duke Vincentio's transformation of his sinful 
Vienna is neither pleasant nor romantic; but met on its own 
terms, it can move us as few non-Shakespearean plays have the 
power to do. 



LNYONE WHO attempts a Christian interpretation of Shake- 
spearean tragedy must be prepared to answer a special set of 
objections. The modern reader is not usually averse to every 
suggestion of a divine analog for comedy or to the tracing of 
providential maneuvering in a history play, but he is likely to 
insist that Christianity and tragedy are incompatible. Sylvan 
Barnet in an essay on Christian interpretation gives a representa- 
tive statement of this point of view: 

Christianity is dramatic, but it is not tragic, for, as historians from 
Raleigh to Hegel have realized, Christian teleology robs death of its 
sting. . . . Shakespeare's plays have been analyzed not merely in 
ethical terms, but in terms of Christian theology. This procedure 
is harmful because the business of tragedy, unlike that of a 
religious system, is not to explain the world, but to portray an 
aspect of it. Tragedy does not claim to offer the whole truth, nor 
does it require an act of faith to be believed. It sets forth a kind of 
experience which every man knows, presenting suffering and death 
as the hard facts which most men feel them to be. If it presented 
the death of a good man in medieval Christian terms, i.e., the 
release of a man from this realm to his eternal reward, it would 
cease to be tragic. 1 


The view of Christianity implied here is, of course, a limited 
one; but it would be foolish to deny that a good many professing 
Christians share it. It would be equally foolish to deny that 
any literary work restricted by such a view had better be called 
something other than "tragedy/ 7 Yet few Christians are so 
saintly as to go through life without fears and doubts about the 
hereafter, and perhaps fewer still die without them. For all but 
the exceptional Christian, as for anyone else, death is still "the 
undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveller returns." 
The Christian may learn from the image of the man on the cross 
to strengthen his faith in what he has been told about that 
country; but from that same image he daily discovers his own 
unworthiness as creature to merit any reward in it. Death, when 
it comes to the Christian, is thus accompanied by a double- 
edged kind of knowledge which makes it as potentially tragic 
to the observer as any pagan's death. The image of Jesus, which 
has provided a model of perfection throughout the Christian's 
life, at his end serves as a measure by which to tally up his own 
appalling shortcomings and general incompleteness. The result 
of that tally is never, .comforting; this is what the writers jTpur 
old moralities were trying to say when they represented Death 
as a shaggy specter and the dying ^ Christian as a conscience- 
stricken wretch pleading for time. "Moreover, when St. TPaul 
wrote, "O death, wliere is thy sting?" (I Corinthians xv.55), 
he was referring not to the sting of dying but to the sting of sin, 
whereby the unbeliever is doomed to eternal death. The sting of 
dying remains with Christians as part of the penalty of sin; it is 
not deadened by the faith but made sharper than ever. One 
might observe that Stoicism, which frankly offers the oblivion 
of eternal death, is said to allow a much less painful passing. 

Our modern notions about tragedy are sometimes as limited as 
our notions about Christianity./ Barnet may be right when he 
says that tragedy "sets forth a Jdnd of experignc^ Jftjrich. jevery 
man knows," though this would seem to bring the experience 
close to some kind of lowest common denominator. He is 
certainly wrong if he would limit tragedy to the mere representa- 


tion of "the hard facts of suffering and death/' In themselves 
these hard facts are meaningless, and to insist upon their 
significance would leave us in the sad but sentimental posture 
of Willy Loman's widow at the grave of her salesman husband. 

/The^ common element^pf all true tragedies, Christiaa and npn- 
Christian, is the knowledge or vision that suffering brings to .a 
sensitive protagonist. Without this knowledge we have only 
melodrama, regardless of how pathetic or how terrifying the 
suffering may be. A platitude tacked on at the end will not 
suffice; the knowledge must be legitimately earned. The most 
terrifying spectacle in all Shakespeare is probably the blinding 
of Gloucester at the hands of Cornwall and Regan, but it 
misses tragedy by a mile; for Gloucester emerges from his ordeal 
with the feeble "As flies to wanton boys, are we to th' gods, / 
They kill us for their sport," which shows him no more knowl- 
edgeable than he was before. He is the same insensitive 
Gloucester who taunted his own son with bastardy. If the 
suffering really brings the victim to knowledge, however, we 
can endure almost any spectacle. For example, none of us 
really enjoys seeing a blinded and bleeding Oedipus on the 
stage, but most of us consider that sight preferable to the 
spectacle of an overconfident Oedipus at the beginning of the 
play, blind in his ignorance. We feel that Oedipus, though at a 
fantastic cost, has gained a measure of self-knowledge that is 
worth having^or the same reason most of us prefer the Othello 
of Act V, who at last knows what wasteful rage he is capable of, 
to the Othello who exudes sweet reasonableness before the 
senators of Venice, and even that shattered and all but defeated 
Macbeth with the certain knowledge of at least one quality in 
which he is steadfastly good, to the earlier Macbeth who is 
superficially complete yet vulnerable to every wind of temptation^ 

/The insight into the human situation that these protagonists 

have acquired by means of their ordeals and that we have 

acquired by watching them makes these terrible actions tragedies; 

the special nature of that insight makes them Christian/ 

Christian tragedy presupposes a world similar in many ways 


to that of Sophoclean tragedy, but it emphasizes the elements 
of it differently and gives them different names. It also adds 
something. In the Sophoclean cosmos disorder is both natural 
and inevitable. Order is there, too; but a well-ordered, rational 
universe is merely a rationally perceived norm, desirable in its 
way but untrue to the nature of things. In fact, order and 
disorder presuppose one another; both are to be found in the 
animate world of nature, in the institutions of society, and in 
man himself. Wisdom means accepting the fact of one's own 
participation in this natural scheme of things, but the rational 
part of man balks at what seems to be an inconsistency in the 
world about him and tries to deny part of it. He may simply 
shut his eyes to what he does not want to see, or he may try 
to change what he does not like, or he may refuse to admit that 
he himself is involved in the more disagreeable part. In any case, 
his arrogant denial is what the Greeks call hubris, and it usually 
gets him into trouble. If the trouble brings him to the point of 
wisdom, or at least sets him on the right path, we call his action 
a tragic one. Ideally, he comes to know what his world is really 
like and also to know that he with his divided essence is a 
mirror of the mysterious world about him. 

In the Christian universe God is order and goodness, and 
his manifestation of that goodness is the created world. Nowhere 
does God's goodness shine forth more clearly than in man, and 
nowhere in man more clearly than in his Godlike freedom of 
the will. It is in this freedom, given first to the angels and then 
to man, that we find the origin of disorder, or estrangement from 
God, which God in his omniscience foresees and in his wisdom 
permits. Like Greek tragedy, Christian tragedy focuses upon a 
division in man himself, but Christians see that division as a 
partial distortion of a once undistorted image of God, the result 
of man's ancient and willful estrangement from his maker. The 
first tragedy, that of Adam, began when God and man were still 
in a good relationship. The question was (though with God, 
of course, there was no question) whether this good man, 
knowing God's will and free to choose, would maintain his will 


in perfect alignment with the will that had made him. The 
partial answer is clear to everybody. Adam disobeyed, came to 
know his creatureliness the hard way, and suffered death. There 
is a tragedy in this brief sketch of the Genesis story, but it is not 
yet Christian tragedy. For Christians the primal question 
remains; and the complete answer to it is a divine comedy 
involving both the fall of the first Adam and the miraculous 
triumph of the second. That comedy with its mystery and its 
revelation provides the modification which makes Christian 
tragedy what it is; it in no way cancels out the tragedy. Man, 
Christians believe, can never return to his original perfection 
without some outside help; yet having the will God gave him, 
he can still will to be like God, and can still fall as Adam fell, 
with the same consequences. The Christian's fall, however, is 
far more tragic than Adam's, for as a result of the incarnation of 
God in Jesus he can see more clearly the image of the creator 
in his own flesh and in his own actions. Christian tragedy thus 
discovers what remains of the divine image in man and contrasts 
the original perfection of that image with man's present fallen 

The subject matter of Christian tragedy is the same as that 
of any other kind of tragedy. It may be historical, quasi-histori- 
cal, or fictional. Puritan reformers sometimes insisted that stage 
representation would not be altogether bad if it limited itself 
to "true" history, which, being an illustration of the workings 
of Providence, might conceivably be edifying; they insisted 
further that fiction, being a lie, was the Devil's work at best 
frivolous, at worst dangerous. Shakespeare clearly did not share 
this simple-minded view. With Richard II his treatment of 
historical material became as flexible as his treatment of any 
other source. Like a thoroughgoing sacramentalist, he could 
regard history as a meaningful but frequently enigmatic con- 
catenation of events, all participating by analogy in a single 
vastly complex divine action; and like Dante, he could regard 
the poet's fabrication of events as a secondary kind of creation, 
the result of the divine will working through a creature who 


had received a part of its own creative impulse. Sidney, in 
making this view explicit, suggested that some might find it 
"saucy" and admitted that few would understand it: 

Neither let it be deemed too saucy a comparison to balance the 
highest point of man's wit with the efficacy of Nature; but rather 
give right honor to the Heavenly Maker of that maker, who, having 
made man in His own likeness, set him beyond and over all the 
works of that second nature. Which in nothing he sheweth so much 
as in poetry, when with the force of a divine breath he bringeth 
things forth surpassing her doings, with no small arguments to the 
incredulous of that first accursed fall of Adam, since our erected 
wit maketh us to know what perfection is, and yet our infected will 
keepeth us from reaching unto it. But these arguments will by few 
be understood, and by fewer granted; thus much I hope will be 
given me, that the Greeks with some probability of reason gave 
him the name above all names of learning. 2 

Shakespeare, who may never have stated this view explicitly 
either to himself or to anyone else, put it into practice. That is 
why Shakespeare's use of Biblical analogies and analogies with 
Christian fable like that of the Four Daughters of God is 
especially important to us. If the sense of analogy was weakening 
in his day, it is all but lost in ours. Most of us get back to it 
only by an effort of historical reconstruction; and the analogical 
use of Scripture, simply because it happens to be well docu- 
mented in a variety of sources, provides one of our firmest clues 
to a mode of thinking that at one time was habitual with a great 
many people. To one who has the habit of analogical thinking, 
any matter that is matter for a tragedy can be matter for a 
Christian tragedy. 

/One thing that does survive from Shakespeare's time, though 
certainly not from the better poets and writers of that time, is 
the popular view that Christianity is simple./ Though knowledge 
necessary to salvation is undoubtedly simple enough to be com- 
municated to young children, a full knowledge of the faith is 
too much for any man to acquire in a long lifetime; and there 


is therefore no reason to assume, as do some readers, that a 
Christian interpretation of any poem or play will necessarily 
result in oversimplification. Most modern readers are under- 
standably and properly wary of drawing analogies between 
Shakespeare's works and the English moralities with their 
dramatized abstractions, just as they are wary of accepting some 
of the easy moralizations of Shakespeare that older critics have 
left with us. But the Christianity of Shakespeare is not of the 
order of any of these./ More than any other English poet, he 
confronts life in its complexity, sees the latent goodness that 
characterizes creation, and dramatizes the process whereby 
creation is redeemed. Thus, whenever in the interests of 
explication we simplify his insights and reduce the action of 
his plays to formulas, we run considerable risk of obscuring the 
very thing that makes Shakespeare's work enduring and great r 
All criticism of Shakespeare's work runs this risk to some extent, 
and the four essays on tragedy that follow are no exception. 
For that reason they need to be supplemented by all readings 
that call attention to Shakespeare's careful and vastly detailed 
examination of men's wavs and motives. 




' T HAS BEEN a long time since Shakespeare's Hamlet had a 
proper audience, if indeed it ever had one. The principal diffi- 
culty in our time seems to be the readiness with which various 
logically coherent aspects of the action sliver off from the whole 
and relate themselves, sometimes with incredible neatness, to 
our own areas of experience. During the past fifty or sixty years 
so many interpreters have recognized so many different things 
in the play that modern readers often despair of distinguishing 
the central light from the multitude of reflectors that have been 
set up around it. Professor Tillyard, for example, was plainly 
embarrassed by the "abundance of things presented" in Hamlet. 
It has too much "sheer explication/' he said, and explication 
obscures "the startiingly clear and unmistakable shape" which 
one has a right to expect in ideal tragedy. 1 Yet the shape is 
there, and it may be that at last we shall see it come clear. 
Several more or less recent studies have proved unus.u^lly helpful. 
One that antedates Tillyard's by three years is : Msgr. I. J. 
Sgsnper's Hamlet without Tears, which emphasized the authority 
of the purgatorial ghost and thus the validity of Hamlet's 
appointment to avenge the death of his father and showed, 
partly by citing illustrative comment from St. Thomas Aquinas, 


that Hamlet's dilemma was to^ execute divine vengeance without 
reference to his personal motive. 2 /After that came G. R. Elliott's 
more lengthy study, which followed a similar line but used the 
terms right vengeance and revengefulness and emphasized Ham- 
let's responsibility as a "complete gentleman" to subordinate 
the latter. 3 More recently we have had Fredson Bowers' article 
in PMLA, 4 which asserts that Hamlet, having been given a 
commission as Heaven's minister to kill the usurper without 
incurring guilt, grew impatient at Heaven's delay, impetuously 
stabbed at what he thought was Claudius behind the curtain, 
and thus became Heaven's scourge, eventually to do the ap- 
pointed act but with stain upon his hands. These studies are 
by no means in complete agreement, and Bowers especially 
differs sharply from the other two in insisting that the closet 
scene is the climax of the play; but they are in general agreement 
about the nature of Hamlet's dilemma, which has been a serious 
stumbling block since the criticism of Hamlet began, and their 
contribution in this regard has been of major importance. 

The study that has done more than any other to spell out 
the unity of the play as a piece of dramatic writing, however, is 
Francis Fergusson's^ The Idea of a Theater. 5 F^ergusson has 
identified the central theme as the purgation of Denmark, and 
he has_shown the structure of the play to be an interweaving of 
.numerous analogous and ironic versions of that central theme, 
accompanied by a movement of Pirandelesque improvisation. 
In addition he has put his finger on the reason why Hamlet tends 
to fall apart beneath the scrutiny of the modern reader. "Hamlet 
can be regarded," he writes, "as a dramatization of the process 
which led, in the Renaissance, to the modern world and its 
fragmentary theaters." 6 One can go farther than this, I believe, 
and say that HgmZg^_represents a desperate, if unconscious, 
attempt by one artist to arrest that process of fragmentation to 
hold together for one moment more the essential parts of a 
synthesis that was disintegrating before his eyes. But the moment 
has now passed, and the disintegration has occurred; and 
subsequent anatomizations of Hamlet have made it difficult to 


consider the play as anything but a collection. The 'Vast and 
intricate web of analogies" which Fergusson has seen as the 
essential nature of the play no longer converges for most of us 
in a central "o," as a spider's web does, but spreads into a vast 
maze, with intriguing but meaningless complexity. With the 
initial problem of the play defined, as I take it to be, and with 
the dramatic structure of the play satisfactorily explained, we 
may now go far toward recovering Hamlet from the category of 
"problem play" into which Tillyard, however mistaken he may 
have been, was honest enough to put it. The interpretation 
which follows is offered as a step in that direction. 

The analogies which Fergusson considers are those which 
illuminate Shakespeare's conception of plot, and they mainly 
involve scenes, situations, and relationships within the play. 
Fergusson observed at the end of his study, however, that 
Hamlet has the mysterious property, once ascribed by Mark Van 
Doren to The Tempest, of "lighting up" almost any set of 
symbols that happens to be moved near it. In this chapter I 
shall explore the implications of a special set of symbols that 
Shakespeare himself moved into the electrical field of his version 
of the Hamlet story, one that had been created largely by 
Christian commentators out of the Genesis account of Cain 
and Abel, 

As we have already seen in the examination of Richard II, 
which makes use of the same Biblical analogy, Abel had long 
been considered a prefigurement of Christ: he kept sheep, made 
a perfect sacrifice, and suffered death innocently at the hands 
of his brother, Cain. "The voice of thy brother's blood crieth 
unto me from the groundj (Genesis rv ,10} was the Lord's 
rebuke to Cain; and in that cry Christian exegetes had often 
heard an anticipation of the cry of Jesus' blood against the 
disbelieving Jews. God let Cain live, they said, because it was 
his will that Cain should prefigure the Jews, who likewise lived 
on after their murder of Christ as universal objects of mockery 
and scorn. Furthermore, they pointed out, the only proper 
avenger of Abel was Christ, who was without sin, who suffered 


death and sacrifice in his own person, and who did indeed 
avenge not only his own death but the death of Abel and of all 
mankind by defeating the Devil in Hell and by confounding 
both the Devil and the Jews in his bodily resurrection. In 
Richard II Shakespeare drew principally upon the mysterious 
figure of Cain, which he used as a link to reinforce the analogy 
between Richard and Bolingbroke suggested by his own meta- 
phor of buckets in a weH//igJ?J0mfet he made use of the whole 
story, for in the Hamlet tale he could begin with an actual 
fratricide, show an Abel's blood literally crying out from the 
ground, define his Cain with precision, and concentrate upon 
the dilemma of a mortal prince trying to play the role of divine 

Shakespeare's first demonstrable attempt to link the two 
stories is one that modern readers would be likely to overlook 
if editors did not call attention to it in their footnotes. It comes 
at that point in Act I, Scene ii ? at which Claudius publicly 
rebukes his new stepson for unbecoming sobriety: 

... 'tis unmanly grief; 
It shows a will most incorrect to heaven, 

A fault against the dead, a fault to nature, 
To reason most absurd, whose common theme 
Is death of fathers, and who still hath cried, 
From the first corse till he that died to-day, 
"This must be so/ 7 


Even supposing that Claudius 7 ... linking,, of his dead brother 
here with the murdered Abel is inadvertent, it would be 
unreasonable to suppose that the allusion failed to impress a 
good many members of the Elizabethan audience, who not only 
knew the story of Hamlet perfectly well but also knew without 
stopping to think about it that Abel was the first corpse and 
his innocent death the first concrete proof that part of the 


penalty for Adam's fall was to be physical death for all mankind. 
If the death of the elder Hamlet, thus, was to be thought of as 
a parallel to the death of Abel, Claudius was a parallel to Cain; 
and Hamlet, who was to be about the business of revenge before 
the end of the act, would have to stand as a parallel to whoever 
killed Cain, or to the sinless avenger Christ, or perhaps to both. 
If the audience got even a fraction of all this, they must have 
experienced no surprise at all upon hearing Claudius in Act III 
lament his inability to pray: "O, my offence is rank, .it smells to 
heaven; /It hath the primal eldest curse upon't, / A brother's 
murder" (III.iii.36-38). It must have seemed altogether fitting 
that Claudius, the villain, the Satanic representative in the piece, 
should at this climactic point be aware of the age-old sig- 
nificance of his role. For Claudius' awareness is not the half 
hopeful but guilt-ridden awareness of tragic mankind but the 
utterly hopeless awareness of one who considers himself damned. 
A more important point about this scene, however, is Hamlet's 
patent unawareness either of the significance of his uncle's role 
or of the significance of his own. Because of his own willful 
blindness Hamlet is capable of knowing here only that Claudius 
is in some sense his enemy; he does not yet know fully w/iy 
Claudius is his enemy. And that blindness is the ground of his 
tragedy; '1,'afer, wiien his eyes have been opened, he can watch 
the singing gravedigger flip up an anonymous skull and observe, 
"How the knave jowls it to the ground, as if it was Cain's jaw- 
bone, that did the first murder?* (V.i.84-86} 7 and go on to 
remark how this skull might have belonged to a politician or a 
courtier and how another might have belonged to a lawyer or 
a buyer of land. By the beginning of Act V Hamlet's recognition 
of his situation has brought with it the recognition that common 
humanity shares the curse of Cain,^the responsibility for his 
action though not necessarily his fate. \ 

All these allusions suggest that Shakespeare in reworking the 
story of Hamlet imitated an action which in the life of Christ 
found perfect realization in history but which elsewhere, im- 
perfectly realized, is the perennial subject of myth and ritual. 


Any revenge story could probably be made to reflect something 
of this action, but of course few revenge stories do. Kyd's 
Spanish Tragedy, for example, contains no hint of it and for that 
reason, among others, remains merely melodrama. One may 
guess that Kyd's Hamlet was equally melodramatic. At any rate, 
it was probably Shakespeare with his infinite sense of analogy 
and his almost otherworldly (one might say medieval) sense of 
unity who first saw the timeless significance in this familiar 
material and freed it from the temporality of a particular 
revenge in a particular country. His treatment of the barbaric 
Hamlet story stands in the same relation to the action of Christ 
as does the Old Testament story of Cain and Abel. To use the 
terminology of medieval theologians, they have a common 
allegory. If we" take Shakespeare's allusions to Cain and the 
murder of Abel at face value and consider the murder of the 
elder Hamlet as a repetition of the first murder consider it so, 
moreover, with all the implications that one brought up in the 
old-fashioned tradition of exegesis would regard as self-evident 
we can begin to see Prince Hamlet as the human, fallible, blind, 
tragic counterpart of the Christ who was knowingly both the 
scourge of evil and the sacrificial victim who willingly took that 
evil upon himself. In such a light the full meaning of the play 
begins to emerge, * 

Hamlet, as Shakespeare presents him in the opening scenes 
of Act I, is thoroughly qualified to be the hero of a Christian 
tragedy. In his virtuous fortitude we see the divine iniagp* with 
a clarity that will enable us to recognize later, at his fall^ ^e 
imperfection of such an image in even the best of men. ' JEs 
suffering has already been great. He has had to endure the 
double shock of seeing his uncle assume not only the throne 
but also the role of'husband to the widowed Queen; and in his 
mind these acts constitute an offense to the dead and possibly 
incest, not to mention usurpation. Yet neither the spectacle of 
Claudius' brutishness nor the even grosser spectacle of his 
mother's infidelity has moved him to vengeful action. For he 
sees, as no one else is able to see, that their behavior merely 


makes explicit the rottenness of Denmark, of the world in 
general, the "umveeded garden/' which is his soil as well as 
theirs. Any corrective action on his part, therefore, must begin 
and end in equal wickedness. To escape from Denmark, he 
knows, would solve nothing, and fo escape from the world is 
impossible; flesh is a prison that does not simply melt away, 
and the Everlasting has fixed his canon against self-slaughter. 
Thus Hamlet stands at an impasse, and he has the special grace 
to kno\v that he stands there. Even the suggestion of a solution 
must come to him as a further gift of grace, and that is where 
the Ghost fits in. It is the function of the Ghost to provide 
the revelation which will make it possible for this good man to 
take extraordinary steps to correct an extraordinary situation. 

^The appearance of the Ghost presents the matter over which 
nine-tenths of all Hamlet criticism has fretted. For readers 
familiar with the history of Elizabethan drama, the most com- 
pelling temptation is to explain his presence as a convention 
of the Senecan-Revenge genre; he is a literary catalyst and need 
not be accounted for in any of the important equations. Thus 
it is sometimes said that Shakespeare inherited his ghost along 
with the Hamlet story; audiences expected him to be there 
(perhaps even expected to laugh at his antics in the "cellarage"), 
and we of a more sophisticated age must accept him as a quaint 
literary device for getting the action of the play going. This 
point of view makes sense only if we happen to be considering 
a character like Andrea in the Spanish Tragedy, who does belong 
to the convention and who has almost nothing to do with the 
play in which he appears; but it does more harm than good in 
the study of Hamlet. Among other things, it has helped produce 
the numerous case histories of Hamlet, which have confused 
tragedy with psychological analysis and brought Shakespeare a 
good deal of dubious credit for being ahead of his time. A more 
profitable assumption is that the Ghost is an important factor 
in all the important equations and therefore needs to be studied 
carefully. From this assumption it follows for a number of 
critics that the Ghost must be precisely in accord with some 


accepted pneumatology of Shakespeare's time. Thus we have 
J. Dover Wilson's orthodox Catholic ghost from a Catholic 
purgatory and Roy W. Battenhouse's paganesque ghost from a 
non-Catholic purgatory, to say nothing of the possibility of a 
devil in disguise as suggested (not seriously) by Robert H. 
West. 7 West's great service here has been to remind us that 
very few of the men of Shakespeare's time were self-assured 
pneumatologists: "The action in which King Hamlet's ghost 
takes part emphasizes its tenuity, its frightfulness 7 its special 
knowledge, and the dubiety of its nature and purposes. Unless 
we insist on taking the ghost's word for it, we can never feel 
sure of that nature and those purposes. Shakespeare strongly 
asserted the reality of the supernatural, and he recalled to his 
audience some current explanations of it; but in sum he left 
the apparition almost as mysterious as he found it/' 8 This stage 
ghost is credible to us precisely because he leaves us, as he 
obviously leaves Hamlet, with the same mixture of terror and 
doubt that any supernatural manifestation would presumably 
generate in us. We know what he seems to be, and we do not 
seriously doubt his story about the murder. What troubles us 
is his cry for revenge, which hardly befits a ghost from a Christian 
purgatory. As West has pointed out, no other Elizabethan 
ghost, in drama or out of it, comes from purgatory and makes 
such a demand. 9 

v A solution to this problem can be found, I believe, in the 
commission which the Ghost delivers, provided we examine it 
closely enough. Initially this commission appears to be a 
simple stimulus to revenge: "If thou didst ever thy dear father 
Jove . . . Revenge his foul and most unnatural murdej. ... If 
^hqu hast nature in thee, bear it not" (I.v.23ff)<inpt the 
caveats with which the commission concludes (tna which 
really justify our calling it a commission) radically alter its 
complexion. These caveats are two: 

L But, howsoever thou pursuest this act, 
Taint not thy mind, 


2. nor let thy soul contrive 

Against thy mother aught. Leave her to heaven, 
And to those thorns that in her bosom lodge 
To prick and sting her. 


The second of these, though important, is the less important 
of the two. As has often been observed, Hamlet is gravely 
concerned about his mother's trespass so gravely, in fact, that 
it tends to replace all other considerations in his mind. And, 
like Hamlet, the Ghost seems to be almost more shocked by 
Gertrude's complaisance in the affair than by the actual murder. 
This warning, therefore, serves as a reminder to both Hamlet and 
his father that Gertrude's fault is not at the center of the evil 
and that for Hamlet it constitutes a potentially dangerous 
distraction. The most important part of the Ghost's injunction 
is in the first of these appended warnings, "Taint not thy 
mind." 10 For here we have our clue to the authority of the 
Ghost and to the nature of the role that Hamlet is being asked 
to assume. 

T-It is well known that revenge in Shakespeare's time was a 
business without legal sanction, ecclesiastical or civil. Privately, 
of course, the Elizabethan could and did view revenge sym- 
pathetically un3er certain circumstances. He could, as we can, 
deny a man any legal or ethical right to kill the slayer of his 
father or the violater of his sister and yet tolerate the avenger 
in such cases and inflict only a nominal punishment for his act 
of murder. Still, the Christian prohibition against personal 
revenge is unmistakable. ; The warning of Ecclesiasticus xxvin.1 
is repeated throughout the New Testament as well as the Old: 
"He that seeketh to revenge himself, shall find vengeance from 
the Lord." And Christ's abrogation of the Old Testament 
principle of talion (Matthew v. 38-39) is too explicit to leave any 
doubt. A genuine Christian, however tolerant he may be toward 
his neighbor's act of vengeance, cannot take conscience-free 
refuge in popular mores. ^Nevertheless, it is possible for a human 


being to execute "virtuous vengeance" under certain very special 
circumstances, and Hamlet deals with those circumstances. As 
Semper has already pointed out, 11 St. Thomas Aquinas' explana- 
tion of them cuts straight to the bone of Shakespeare's play. 12 
In the first place, the avenger must be divinely appointed: "He 
who takes vengeance on the wicked in keeping with his rank 
and position does not usurp what belongs to God, but makes 
use of the power granted him by God. For it is written (Rom. 
xin.4) of the earthly prince that he is God's minister, an avenger 
to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. If, however, a man 
takes vengeance outside the order of divine appointment, he 
usurps what is God's and therefore sins." It may be noted 
here that even the principle of talion was, at least originally, 
to be applied by the judge as an agent of divine authority, not 
by the ordinary individual. Secondly, the wrong to be avenged 
must not be merely a personal wrong: "Sometimes a wrong 
done to a person reflects on God and the Church: and then it 
is the duty of that person to avenge the wrong. ... But in so far 
as the wrong inflicted on a man affects his person, he should 
bear it patiently if this be expedient." Within the limits imposed 
by these two conditions lies the authority for Hamlet's taking 
virtuous revenge upon his father's murderer. He is,Jn.the eyes 
of Heaven (and of Laertes, top, for that matter; see I.iii.16-24) 
heir to his dead father and King of Denmark; he is therefore 
"God's minister ... to execute wrath upon him that doeth 
evil." The evil that confronts Hamlet, moreover, is without 
question one that reflects on God, however deeply it may affect 
him personally; for the murdered man was also God's minister. 
Thus the question at issue in the play is not whether Hamlet 
may execute revenge on his uncle, but whether he can execute 
it without reference to the wrong inflicted upon his person. 
Here lies the whole force of the Ghost's injunction, "howsoever 
thoITpufsuest this act, / Taint not thy mind/' As Aquinas 
explains it (the italics here are mine), "Vengeance consists in 
the infliction of a penal evil on one who has sinned. Accord- 
ingly, in the matter of vengeance, we must consider the mind 


of the avenger. For if his intention is directed chiefly to the evil 
of the person on whom he takes vengeance, and rests there, 
then his vengeance is altogether unlawful: because to take 
pleasure in another's evil belongs to hatred, which is contrary 
to the charity whereby we are bound to love all men/' 

Hamlet's human impulse to seek personal revenge appears 
almost as soon as he learns the true manner of his father's 
deatta "Haste me to know't," he tells the Ghost, "that I, with 
wingTas swift / As meditation or the thoughts of love, / May 
sweep to my revenge" (I.v.29-31). He is indeed, as the Ghost 
puts it, "apt" for the business he is to do; yet he is equally "apt" 
to do it for the wrong reason. The function of the warning 
"Taint not thy mind" is to make possible the only solution that 
will punish the usurper, preserve the punisher, and restore health 
to the infected state of Denmark that is, the only solution 
that will effect all three of these. That Claudius is to be 
punished and that Denmark is to be restored are matters 
patently within the limits of God's will; with or without Hamlet, 
these things are to be done. The conditional matter is the 
preservation of the agent Hamlet, and it is conditional upon 
nothing more or less than Hamlet's own free will. 'The questions 
to be answered by the play (and by any Christian tragedy) are, 
first, will the protagonist acknowledge his dependence upon 
God for perfection and do the thing God's way? and, second, 
if he will not, what then? To do the thing God's way, Hamlet 
must be willing to kill Claudius only as his wrong reflects upon 
God, bearing the sword only with a sense of duty and loving the 
sinner upon whom it must fall. He must also be willing to 
resist the temptation to chastise hi$ mother for her domestic 
sin, which Heaven has elected to punish in some other way. 
All that is required of him is that his will be so aligned; if it is, 
Heaven will provide occasion for the deed that he is to do and 
lead him away from temptation to do the deed that is forbidden. 
Hamlet's opportunity is an extraordinary one: his hand is to 
be the hand of Heaven, and what his flesh would do "naturally," 
to its own corruption and possibly damnation, Heaven will 


accomplish through his flesh and leave no blemish. Yet it is an 
opportunity that requires on Hamlet's part extraordinary Chris- 
tianor rather, Christlike fortitude. 

Whereas previously Christian conscience and humility have 
required only passive endurance of Hamlet, the commission of 
the Ghost now demands Christlike action. It imposes upon him 
a crucial test which he does not pass. Indeed, he seems to be 
totally unaware that he has been tested, but takes the qualified 
commission as a private dispensation to even a private score. 
One might observe that the fault is scarcely Hamlet's. He is 
after all human, not divine; and the Ghost does begin with 
"Revenge! 7 * and end with "Remember me." Hamlet can hardly 
be blamed for failing to catch the force of "Taint not thy 
mind" and "Leave her to heaven," prefaced as they are by such 
a terrible recital. The proper answer to such an observation is 
that God's revelation of his will to man seldom comes without 
temptations to circumvent it. 'It is the pattern of revelation 
established with the prohibition in the Garden: the command 
to Lot and his family not to look back at Sodom, the command 
to Balaam to go to Balaak, the command to Moses to speak to 
the rock (when he had previously struck it with excellent 
results), the command to Jonah to make a patently useless trip 
to Nineveh. The good man is seldom tempted to rebel against 
God's will; he is merely tempted to modify it to suit circum- 
stances that God apparently did not foresee. As a matter of fact, 
Hamlet is at least partially aware how he is supposed to do what 
he is to do. This much is clear from at least two things that he 
says in Act I. First, we have his outburst as the Ghost departs: 
"All you host of heaven! O Earth! what else? / And shall I 
couple Hell?" It is the cry of one who can scarcely believe that 
such a commission has been thrust into his hands. He does 
halfway believe it, however, for his comment at the end of 
that act is unequivocal: "The time is out of joint; O cursed 
spite, /That ever I was born to set it right!" (I.v.189-190). 
Yet the agonized "And shalH couple Hell?" (I.v.93) is followed 
by a very human "Oh, fie!" and some bitter, but equally human, 


comments on the villainy of his uncle and the perfidy of his 
mother. These remarks, like virtually everything else in the 
first half of the play, serve to underscore the fact that' Hamlet's 
initial understanding of his situation after the Ghost's visit is 
only partial; and even that understanding tends to become 
obscured or to disappear altogether in the course of his humanly 
ingenious attempts to hide behind the cloak of feigned madness 
and to prove the validity of the Ghost's message by the device 
of the mousetrap. In fact, of all the conclusions that he might 
have drawn from the success of the mousetrap device, he blindly 
and perversely chooses the irrelevant one. As far as Hamlet is 
concerned, the Gonzago play proves only that Claudius murdered 
his father. He does not stop to ask whether it proves the 
authority of the Ghost as well. Thus he gloats like a Kydian 

J Tis now the very witching time of night, 
When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes 
Contagion to this world. Now could I drink 

hot blood, 

And do such bitter business as the day 
Would quake to look on. 


Thus he goes to his mother "to speak daggers to her/' though 
he will use none. And thus he comes upon the King at prayer. 
The prayer scene constitutes the climax in the action of the 
play. What happens there is both the logical consequence of 
Hamlet's faulty understanding of the business he is about and 
the immediate cause of everything that comes afterward. On his 
way to his mother's chamber, Hamlet sees his uncle on his 
knees, trying to beg forgiveness for the sin that has marked him 
a new Cain; Hamlet pauses briefly but does not kill him. The 
question that inevitably arises at this point is: Why does he 
forbear? But there is really no puzzle here. Hamlet's answer 
that to kill the King at prayer would not be revenge is the answer 
that makes the play a tragedy. It makes the play a tragedy, 


however, only for the critic who has first asked the basic ques- 
tion: Ought Hamlet to have killed the King at this point? The 
answer to that must be yes. Bowers ? who has helpfully empha- 
sized the difference between divine and human vengeance in 
his distinction between scourge and minister, declares this 
answer indefensible. 13 Missing the whole point of the prayer 
scene, he writes: "an opportunity is given him for private 
revenge in the prayer scene, but one so far different from 
divinely appointed public vengeance that Heaven would never 
have provided it for its minister, a sign that the time is not 
yet." 14 There is no opportunity for a true private revenge here, 
or at any rate Hamlet does not think so; and one wonders just 
why divinely appointed vengeance should necessarily be public. 
We must remember that this is the first time Hamlet has seen 
the King since the Gonzago play proved conclusively to him the 
validity of the Ghost's story and validated or should have 
validated the Ghost's commission; and for several reasons this 
meeting provides the ideal solution toward which the action has 
been tending. For one thing, it provides an occasion whereby 
Claudius may die in the midst of an act of contrition. The irony 
of it the tragic irony of it is that Hamlet sees this clearly, but 
still is so blind to the nature of his mission that he does not see 
it as desirable: 

Now might I do it pat, now he is praying; 

And now I'll do't And so he goes to heaven; 

And so I am reveng'd. That would be scann'd. 

A villain* kills my father, and for that 

I, his sole son, do this same villain send 

To heaven. 

Oh, this is hire and salary*, not revenge. 


This, of course, is precisely the point. Hamlet's action ideally 
should be a sort of hire and salary, a deed analogous to that 
committed without conscience by a paid executioner, not a deed 
of revenge. 


Another reason why the meeting with Claudius provides an 
ideal solution for the action with which Hamlet has been 
entrusted is that it gives him a chance to submit to the 
"divinity that shapes our ends" and thus avoid any further 
reflection of the kind that must bring into play motives to 
condemn him. "Unfortunately Hamlet has already reflected too 
much; the motive for personal revenge has crowded everything 
else out of his mind, and by the time he gets his opportunity 
to kill Claudius \\ith impunity, he has forfeited the right to 
desire it. Instead he blindly kills Polonius. Later, of course, 
Hamlet does learn what submission to divinity means: 


And prais'd be rashness for it; let us know 
Our indiscretion sometimes serves us well 
When our deep plots do pall; and that should 

teach us 

There's a divinity that shapes our ends, 
Rough-hew them how we will, 


This rashness that comes of submitting to divinity is the 
rashness that enables him to cut short the trip to England and 
return safely to Denmark, untroubled by his peremptory disposal 
of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. It is the same rashness, the 
same avoidance of plotting and thinking too precisely upon the 
event, that characterizes the fulfillment of his mission in the 
unpremeditated murder of Claudius at the dueling match. By 
contrast, the rashness that leads him here in Act III to spare 
Claudius at prayer and kill the hapless Polonius is the product 
of much plotting and precise thinking and the consequence of 
submitting to the most savage of human passio'nsT" 
^ .Another irony of Hamlet's decision to forbear appears when 
W2 consider the contrast between his elaborate device of the 
play, which he has contrived in order to justify his cause, with 
the simple, almost obvious occasion which providence presents 
for the same purpose. His failure to recognize the occasion that 


providence has provided is, of course, completely human, but 
it is always human failure which marks the tragic discrepancy 
between the human punisher and the sinless punisher, Christ. 
By this decision Hamlet has blindly chosen the way of corrupt 
humanity rather than that of divinity, and the consequence is 
simply that Heaven takes his choice at face value. To be sure, 
he does ultimately fulfill the central part of his commission: 
he does kill the King and purge Denmark of its evil. But he 
fulfills it within the pattern of God's human and sinful scourges, 
who in doing his will execute also their own punishment. As 
he proceeds to violate the explicit command of the Ghost and 
stand in judgment upon his mother, he inadvertently commits 
the murder of Polonius and thus brings upon himself the 
punishment that traditionally befalls such scourges, blow for 
blow, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. As Hamlet says later of 
Laertes, "by the image of my cause I see ' The portraiture of 
his" ( V.ii.77-78). Here in Act V he speaks with better knowledge 
than Laertes; he himself is no longer the personal avenger that 
he was when he stabbed Polonius. But no amount of knowledge 
can relieve him of responsibility for that earlier sinful act, which 
was no better, and perhaps far worse, than the one young 
Laertes is seeking to commit. ; 

Hamlet's understanding of the situation into which his false 
step has taken him comes gradually in the play, but enough of 
it comes in the scene with his mother to justify one's calling 
it a recognition scene. The last lines that Hamlet speaks in 
his mist of error are those with which he implores the departing 

Do not look upon me, 
Lest with this piteous action you convert 
My stern effects; then what I have to do 
Will want true colour, tears perchance for blood. 


Here we have irony on the same level as his remark about '* 
and salary." Tears instead of blood are exactly what Heaven 


demands of the avenger who will sinlessly purge the evil of the 
world. Yet Hamlet has begun to understand when he turns 
again to his mother and urges her to accept his charges against 
her but to pardon his "virtue/*. Consciousness, if not under- 
standing, of error is manifest in vn his 'concluding words to her, 
"Once more, good night; / And when you are desirous to be 
blest, / 111 blessing beg of you" (III.iv.1704 72). His next re- 
mark shows some recognition of where he stands and where he 
is going: 

For this same lord, 

I do repent; but Heaven hath pleas'd it so, 
To punish me with this, and this with me, 
That I must be their scourge and minister. 
I will bestow him, and will answer well 
The death I gave him. So again, good night. 

I must be cruel, only to be kind. ^ 

Thus bad begins and worse remains behind. 


That is, Hamlet now realizes that what is to follow though 
for him "bad" by the standards of the world (tragic in the 
popular sense) will constitute a far greater good than anything 
that has gone before. Worse remains behind; ahead is something 
better, not only for Denmark, but for his own soul. 

What we see in the last two acts of the play is Hamlet's 
growth in wisdom and understanding, culminating in his attain- 
ment of that grace which can be reached only through insight 
into the nature of evil and realization of man's tragic involve- 
ment in it. Act IV is largely concerned with the development 
of Laertes as Hamlet's foil and scourge, but it does show Hamlet 
ironically answering to tie King for a murder by which he 
bought the King's reprieve and sealed his own punishment. It 
also shows Hamlet meditating upon the professional "hire-and- 
salary" murders that Fortinbras' men will commit in Poland 
and determining to profit by these "examples gross as earth" 
and proceed quickly with his own bloody business. Thus it 
show v s us Hamlet at last setting out in the right direction. He is 


growing in understanding, but he carries upon his back a load 
of personal guilt for which he must pay. In a sense he is like 
Samson, who, having perceived the folly of the blindness that 
he stumbled in when physical sight was still with him, was 
finally permitted to do the Lord's will in the right way, humbly 
and submissively but was required at the same time to pay for 
his pwn folly and perish in doing it. 

It is in Act V that we see Hamlet stand forth as a tragic hero 
in the humility and dignity of complete understanding. He no 
longer sees himself pridefully as a man set apart by superior 
knowledge and a dispensation from heaven. He is now Hamlet 
the Dane, a man, corrupt like any of his subjects. In humility 
he stands with gravediggers as equals and rebukes the snobbish 
Osric for doffing his hat. Man "the quintessence of dust" has 
become loam to stop a beer barrel, Alexander's skull would be 
indistinguishable from Yorick's, and the unidentifiable jawbone 
from the pit could be Cain's as well as anyone's. Hamlet's 
humility has bred in him a new human sympathy. His earlier 
"man delights not me" remains, but with a difference. He is 
no longer above man, but with him. And he can profess openly 
his affection , for particular men for Yorick, for Ophelia, and 
for Laertes. Coupled with these new insights about man's nature 
has come another that is still more important, about man's 
destiny. For now he sees that man's destiny is simply God's will 
and that neither is to be divined by man's impotent rationality ^ 
The fullness of knowledge comes to him now as an illness about 
the heart, "such a kind of gain-giving as would perhaps trouble 
a woman" (V.ii.225-226). Arxdixthe two speeches that follow, 
all the .wisdom^thatJHamlet and the play., have, _to offer are 

first of these bespeaks the resignation of Gethsemane: 
"If it be now, 'tis not to come. . . . The readiness is all. Since 
no man has aught of what he leaves, what is't to leave betimes? 
Let be." The second speech is even more revelatory of Hamlet's 
fullrife'ss of understanding; for it shows that he now sees that his 
earlier "sanity" hidden under the cloak of pretended madness 


was merely the wisdom of the world and God's foolishness, the 
worst sort of madness that man falls heir to. 

Was't Hamlet wrong' d Laertes? Never Hamlet! 
If Hamlet from himself be ta'en away, 
And when he's not himself does wrong Laertes, 
Then Hamlet does it not, Hamlet denies it. 
Who does it, then? His madness. If t be so, 
Hamlet is of the faction that is wrong' d; 
His madness is poor Hamlet's enemy. 


The best that Hamlet can now claim for himself is the absence 
of intent, and in pleading this he disclaims the role of Cain. 

At the same time, however, he describes his own fate in a way 
which suggests still another allusion to the story of Cain and 

\ Let my disclaiming from a purpos'd evil 
Free me so far in your most generous thoughts, 
That I have shot mine arrow o'er the house 
And hurt my brother. 


This is strangely reminiscent of the legend of Lamech, the 
great-great-great-grandson of Cain. 15 Peter Comestor, professing 
to follow Jewish sources, wrote in his Historia Scholastica that 
it was Lamech who, blind with age, shot the arrow that killed 
the hated Cain, when the young boy who was serving him ,as a 
^spotter mistook Cain for a beast in the bush. 16 Lamech in his 
horror slew the young boy who had thus made him incur the 
sevenfold vengeance of God, and then lameniied that his 
impetuosity had only increased the spread of 'that sin: "If Cain 
shall be avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold" 
(Genesis iv.24). It was this spreading of sin, said some, that 
brought about tKe deluge and the purging of mankind; and the 
one English cycle that makes a play of the subject of Lamech so 


treats it. 17 There is no clear evidence, of course, that Shakespeare 
thought of the legend here; but the consonance of that legend 
with Hamlet as regards the spread of sin, the blindness that 
precipitates the catastrophe, and the catastrophe that purges is 
a further indication of the general background against which 
Shakespeare wrote his play. Like Lamech, Hamlet sees the 
errors of his own blindness as spreading the corruption which 
will end in a bloody catastrophe. 

In any case, the scene with Laertes must inevitably sharpen 
the sense of what \ve call original sin in the minds of those who 
see the play from a Christian perspective. The fault which has 
brought Hamlet to his tragic pass differs in no essential way from 
the fault that cost Adam his Paradise and brought death into 
the world, and it differs in no essential way from the countless 
repetitions of the Fall that take place daily in men's insubordi- 
nate lives. Hamlet participates in an action for which the 
human analogies are endless Adam, Moses, Samson, every man. 
But the analogy that unites them all and gives them all sig- 
nificance is the timeless and perfect sacrament of the Cross. 
"TKis play, like any true tragedy, presents the paradoxical nature 
of man and his destiny; but it does so from a Christian per- 
spective, showing the human action as implicitly suggestive 
of a complete action that is beyond tragedy, 

What Shakespeare has done here is to take a bloody fable of 
a barbaric and pagan world and hold it up to the norm that 
makes possible the Christian view of man's situation as tragic; 
in it we see not only what we are but the potential perfection 
which we have missed, marred, or otherwise turned willfully 
away from. The character in the play who comments most 
persuasively upon this aspect of the action is Ophelia, who in 
her madness becomes the Cassandra of the piece. All her lines 
in Act IV, Scene v, are riddling lines and are meant to be; they 
reveal a mind in which coherence has vanished and only the 
disjointed elements remain, loss of a father and loss of a lover 
mingling in one undifferentiated sense of loss. But the result 
of this mingling is a recognition that sanity would probably 


have denied her. In her madness she sees, as no one else in the 
play sees, Hamlet's role as the savior of Denmark and her own 
role as that of one who rejected him. 

Ophelia's first line in the "mad scene" is as ambiguous as 
everything else she says there. 18 "Where is the beauteous 
majesty of Denmark?" she asks as she enters, though it is fairly 
certain she is not asking for Claudius. Her words here can mean 
either, "Where now is the glory of this Kingdom?" or "Where 
is Denmark's king?" They can and do mean both, and every- 
thing she says afterward answers this ambiguous question in 
one way or another. First, she sings a ballad in which an 
unnamed maid laments the death of a pilgrim lover she has 
allowed to escape her, "How should I your true love know." 
The image of Hamlet, who is both the only "true love" she has 
ever had and the only beauteous hope that Denmark has had 
since the accession of Clajjidius, obviously lurks in her mind at 
this point. Her next words, a reply to the King's "How do you 7 
pretty lad}?" are startling indeed: 

Well, God 7 ild you! They say the owl was a 
baker's daughter. Lord, we know what we are, 
but know not what we may be. God be at 
your table! 


Claudius' "Conceit upon her father" is ostensibly a feeble 
irrelevance; she is certainly not thinking of Polonius here. 
There is a sense in which what he says is true, but Claudius is 
now incapable of grasping even as much of the truth as his own 
lips may shape., Ophelia's allusion is, of course, to the familiar 
legend of the balcer's daughter who failed to recognize that she 
was entertaining the Saviour and would have given less than 
generously to him. Freed of her "common sense," she sees 
herself as having played a baker's daughter who entertained her 
Lord unawares and who would have given, if at all, with due 
respect for propriety. "God be at your table/' she is saying to 
the King, "as he was at mine." Thus to Claudius' reference to 


Polonius she replies with a rebuke, "Pray you, let's have no 
words of this, but when they ask you what it means, say you 
this/' and then continues with her ballad for Saint Valentine's 
day, which symbolizes perfectly the kind of selfless love which 
she would recommend to all who entertain a Saviour but which 
she herself has only too late proved capable of. 

Ophelia's conceit upon her father Polonius is certainly involved 
in her mental wanderings in this scene, but it usually merges 
with conceit upon her Lord Hamlet. Even her line "I cannot 
choose but weep to think they should lay him i' the cold 
ground" need not be exclusively a reference to Polonius; for 
Hamlet is as much the victim of Polonius as Polonius is the 
victim of Hamlet, and Hamlet, as far as her life is concerned, 
died when he killed her father. The songs that characterize her 
second appearance in the scene are similarly ambiguous. It was 
Polonius whom they literally "bore . . . barefac'd on the bier," 
but Ophelia interrupts to say, "Fare you well, my dove!" 
Perhaps the ballad is meant to include this interruption as a 
last line; in either case it suggests Hamlet, not Polonius. And 
what are we to make of her last two songs? There is nothing of 
Polonius in 'Tor bonny sweet Robin is all my joy," of which 
she sings only the single line. As for the final song, "Go to thy 
death bed; / He will never come again, / His beard as white as 
snow, / All flaxen was his poll," there is nothing in this that 
cannot fit equally well the aged Polonius and the fair-haired 
Hamlet. But Ophelia has lost something more than two men 
in her life; she has lost a rare opportunity. ''They say the owll 
was a baker's daughter. Lord, we know what we are, but know : 
not what we may be." She now sees herself as the owl and in 
her madness knows what she might have been. This, her last 
scene, prepares us for the scenes that follow, in .which Hamlet, 
in cold sanity, comes to understand his own failure. The play 
provides nothing like this for the Queen or for Clamlius. They 
do not understand Ophelia, and they do not understand Hamlet. 
Most important of all, they do not understand themselves. 

Anyone can understand the story of Hamlet as a pathetic 


and terrible tale; but to understand the Christian tragedy that 
Shakespeare made of it, one can hardly do better than begin by 
contemplating Ophelia's, "Lord, we know what we are, but 
know not what we may be." From beginning to end Shake- 
speare's transformation of his material was creative and revelatory 
in the way in which the act of a Christian poet is always 
creative and revelatory: he remade his own world in the image 
of an ancient fable and by holding it up to the Light showed 
that world patterned to perfection but flawed. A satirist might 
have held out the hope that most of the flaws are correctable. 
Shakespeare has brought us face to face with our limitations 
and left us there. Most of us, we see, perennially run the risk 
of becoming baker's daughters. The best of us must accept the 
.sober truth that even in the role of savior we must play both 
minister and scourge. .Tri"fhe Christian drama of redemption 
there is no tragedy, but sacrament, a covenant fulfilled. Christian 
tragedy reveals the divine image in man and his falling short 
of the perfection that that image implies. In that drama we 
see at once the pathos, the terror, and the glory of man's 
situation: his pathetic weakness and his blind pride, the inde- 
pendence he foolishly yearns for, and the utter dependence on 
superhuman aid that he may come by grace to acknowledge. " 


r o WHERE IN Shakespeare does the presence of some kind 
of Biblical analogy suggest itself more readily to the receptive 
reader than it does in Othello, especially when the reader learns 
of some of the changes Shakespeare made in the tale by Cinthio 
from which he got his story. 1 That lago has been blackened, 
that Othello has been turned into a paragon of simple virtue, 
that Desdemona has been transformed from a Venetian lady 
capable of carrying on an intrigue with a young married captain 
to a sweet innocent who can scarcely pronounce the word -whore 
such facts as these, readily gleaned from a comparison with 
Cinthio's version, serve to confirm an impression that Shake- 
speare here worked toward something of considerably more 
definite significance than his fuzzy original; and writers have 
suggested that the temptation plot as Shakespeare eventually 
worked it out reflects the struggle between Satan on the one 
hand and the two great victims of temptation, Adam and Judas, 
on the other. 2 This suggestion is interesting, profitable, and 
valid, as far as it goes; and the reader will decide for himself 
whether or not it carries this sort of interpretation quite far 
enough for Othello. Two objections to it are that it leaves 
Cassio out of account and that it does not account for Shake- 


speare's creation of Roderigo, both of whom are surely something 
more than supernumeraries. 

The interpretation of Othello to be given in this chapter finds 
a place for both of these characters, but it possibly courts other 
objections, among them one that such an interpretation forces 
the play into blasphemy. In anticipation of that objection, one 
needs only to cite the "blasphemy" of St. Augustine's famous 
interpretation of the account of Noah's drunken shame and 
the sin of Ham (Genesis rx.20-27). 3 Augustine takes Noah's 
nakedness in this episode to be a mystical representation of the 
passion of Christ, which followed our Lord's drinking the wine 
of death (or of our sins), made from grapes of his own vineyard 
(Israel). The whole episode, says Augustine, citing II Corin- 
thians xni.4 and I Corinthians i.25, signifies the "infirmity and 
foolishness of God," which are far stronger and wiser than 
anything the best of man can boast. Shocking as this kind 
of interpretation was to some Protestant reformers, who tended 
on the whole to admire Augustine, it was consistent with his 
conviction that all things, however valued, declare in some way 
an aspect of their Creator. Augustine's conviction continues to 
be shared, moreover, right down to the present, by those who 
hold to the broad, catholic view that God is good and has 
created all things good. As a besotted Noah can and does show 
forth the glory of God, so does a murderous Othello. At any 
rate, such is the thesis of this chapter, that Othello in this play 
reflects, if anything, the office of God and that Cassio, not 
Othello, stands as Shakespeare's figure of Adam. 

We may recall that in Genesis the serpent, traditionally 
assumed to be acting as the tool of Satan, is given no motive 
for his mischief except that he was "more subtil than any beast 
of the field." Among Renaissance commentators, however, there 
was the view that Satan attacked innocent Adam and Eve 
because of envy: God had chosen to exalt a new creation, man, 
even to the point of allowing his own Son to take that form; 
and Satan, being an "angel of light," had declined to accept 
such an exaltation of the inferior order. Arnold Williams in his 


Common Expositor* calls attention to the prevalence of this 
view, which Calvin, incidentally, rejected, and observes that an 
early version of it appears in the ancient Vita Adae et Evae. 5 
A brief, convenient Elizabethan statement of the view appears 
in a sermon that Lancelot Andrews wrote more than a decade 
before Othello appeared: 

For so soone as God had said, Let vs make man in our likenes, 
that word was straight a whetstone to the diuells enuie. And after 
the fall, when the seede was promised, that was, and is the cause 
of all the diuells enmitie, Gen. 3. IS. So when the promise was 
reiterated, Genes. 22. 18. that was the cause he so turmoyled all 
the Patriarchs. 6 

That Shakespeare had some such version of man's ancient and 
eternal temptation in mind when he wrote Othello seems more 
than probable when we reflect that the ensign he found in 
Cinthio's Hecatommithi had only sexual jealousy as a motive 
for his enmity against the capo, Cassio's prototype. That ensign's 
jealousy, moreover, was justifiable, Desdemona being, as they 
say, "no better than she should be." By contrast, the sexual 
jealousy of Shakespeare's lago, such as it is, is utterly baseless; 
and Shakespeare accordingly has represented it as only a second- 
ary motive, uncertainly entertained by lago (I.iii.392-396, Il.i. 
300-311, and II.i.316) and finally pooh-poohed completely by 
Emilia ( I V.ii. 145-147). As for the Moor in Cinthio's Hecatom- 
mithi, he has merited no enmity at all from the jealous ancient 
and becomes merely an unwitting tool in the ancient's hands. 
Shakespeare's ancient, however, has a palpable if immoral reason 
to hate his general; his primary motive in the play, like that 
of Satan in the old Vita Adae et Evae and in the writings of 
Renaissance commentators on Genesis, is wounded self-esteem 
(I.i.8-33), which leads the possessor of it to cause, first a weaker 
creature (Cassio) to fall, and second, that weaker creature's 
creator (Othello) to slay a spotless victim in consequence. In 
orthodox Christian doctrine, of course, God did not slay the 


spotless victim; he permitted wicked men to do that. But 
Othello is a man, not God; his adversary is also a man, not a 
fallen angel; his victim is his innocent wife. The action in which 
these participate, however suggestive of the divine comedy 
which redeems fallen humanity, is the action of fallen human 
beings clearly damnatory for lago and pathetic for Desdemona, 
but tragic for Othello, who presumptuously takes upon himself 
the full office of God. 

In line with this general interpretation Act I of Othello seems 
almost like a Prologue in Heaven, wherein Cassio is created 
lieutenant, Desdemona is exalted through adoration of her lord, 
and lago formulatesor articulates the enmity that is shortly 
to bring about the great human disaster. Cassio and Desdemona 
are for all practical purposes purely passive here. Although 
presented in all their innocence and manifest loyalty to Othello, 
they stand for the moment in relative perfection, neither 
creative nor destructive. The action of this act belongs to 
Othello and lago: first to Othello because, having for love of 
Desdemona put his "unhoused free condition . . . into circum- 
scription" (Lii.25-27), he humbles himself further to the point 
of begging passage for her to Cyprus that he may continue 
there "to be free and bounteous to her mind" (I.iii.266); 
secondarily to lago, because lago, although he continually moves 
in one kind of activity or another, always does so contingently 
and blindly. Like the damned soul that he suggests (we may 
recall where Dante put those disloyal to their benefactors) or 
the Devil whom he typifies, lago revels in his "own gained 
knowledge" (I.iii.390) and thinks it sufficient He knows his 
own price (I.i.ll); and, judging by his remarks on love (e.g., 
Li. 38-40), he thinks he knows the value of other people as well. 
He disavows loyalty (Li. 58-60) and declares himself a liar 
(I.i.65). If this were not enough to mark him Satanic, he 
demonstrates even in the face of his vigorous assertion of the 
independence of the will (I.iii.322ff) that action for him is 
always dependent upon what Othello, Cassio, and Desdemona 
do. His will is sufficient to "engender" a plot; Hell and night 


are sufficient to bring it forth (I.iii.409-410); but all these must 
prove powerless if Othello has no love and Cassio and Des- 
demona have no loyalty. The shape of the sort of thing he is 
about to do must always await the shape of some positive 
occasion; thus at no point can lago ever clearly foresee the 
conclusion of his plotting. His hope can never be to destroy 
love, but to trick love into turning from a creative force into 
a destructive one. He must wait for the good action or motive 
to show itself and then try to pervert it. As his behavior with 
Roderigo in Act I clearly shows, his method is that of the 
tempter that is, making others misuse their will and become 
as blind as he is. 

Cassio's part in Act I is slight but important, and we learn 
certain things about him from it. "A fellow almost damn'd 
in a fair wife," says lago of him enigmatically (I.i.21); and this 
very likely refers, as Professor Sisson has suggested, 7 to a 
dangerous tendency to let women distract him from devotion to 
duty. At any rate, Cassio seems to be a gentlemanly kind of 
soldier, better suited to diplomacy and theoretical problems of 
broad strategy than to rough and ready field tactics, good natured 
and congenitally naive about the potentiality for evil in others. 
When lago observes disrespectfully that Othello "tonight hath 
boarded a land carack" (I.ii.50), Cassio, it appears, is genuinely 
puzzled; he simply does not know what lago is talking about. 
Yet his kind of innocence, commendable in a child, strikes one 
as being potentially dangerous in a mature man and trusted 
lieutenant. Cassio, we may say, is innocent to a fault. In 
Desdemona, as she appears in Act I, however, innocence is less 
obviously mixed with naivete. What emerges from her here is 
the kind of defenseless intelligence that we associate with 
Spenser's Una. "I did love the Moor to live with him/' she says 
frankly; "I saw Othello's visage in his mind, / And to his honours 
and his valiant parts / Did I my soul and fortunes consecrate" 
(I.iii.249-255). This is commendable insight, and Desdemona 
never swerves from it, calling him "kind lord" with her last 
breath. Desdemona sees more of Othello's potentiality for evil 


than anyone else in the play but, with the utmost sophistication, 
preserves throughout the image of Othello's potential perfection 
that grows dimmer in the Moor's own dusky countenance as 
the play proceeds. As Othello bends more and more under 
lago's insistent twisting and becomes correspondingly less accept- 
able as a man and husband, Desdemona steadfastly continues 
to provide, even after her death, the suggestive image of per- 
fection whereby he can turn again to the light of truth and see 
himself "as one whose hand / Like the base Indian, threw a 
pearl away / Richer than all his tribe" (V.ii. 346-348). One 
might add here that this speech marks the first time Othello 
has really seen Desdemona for what she is. There is no doubt 
in Act I that Othello values, honors, and prizes his young love; 
but there should also be no doubt there that he does not fully 
realize her worth. "She wish'd / That Heaven had made her 
such a man [as I]" (I.iii.162-163) is his version of her claim to 
more than ordinary feminine intelligence. Taken at the purely 
literal level of the play, this is a dangerous attitude with which 
to begin a marriage. 

Cassio, at any level, knows Desdemona and himself better 
than this almost from the first. Yet if we grant that Act I 
suggests allegorically a Prologue in Heaven, we shall see that 
Act II suggests even more strongly that fresh, fatal morning in 
Paradise when Adam saw as much truth as it has even been 
given mere man to see and then turned away. The storm has 
passed. Cyprus is no longer the focus of a war but an island of 
peace. Cassio has just arrived safely on it, and Desdemona and 
her lord are shortly to follow. To the retiring governor, who 
asks whether General Othello has a wife, he replies (in the 
words of the Folio) : 

He hath achiev'd a maid 
That paragons description and wild fame; 
One that excels the quirks of blazoning pens, 
And in th' essential vesture of creation 
Does tire the Ingeniver. 



Editors have worried these lines into an unnecessary puzzle. 
'Tire" does not mean "wean*" or "exhaust/' as many have 
thought, but, as Sisson has suggested, "attire." 8 The passage 
may be glossed: "He has achieved a maid that excels the 
descriptions and extravagant reports of her, one that surpasses 
in delicacy the flourishes of pens that write her praise, one that 
clothes the Creator in the essential vesture (that is, earthly 
matter) of creation." In short, Desdemona is the ideal truth, 
goodness, beauty made flesh, an incarnation of her Creator's 
ideal excellence. The lines that follow bear out this interpreta- 
tion nicely. To a second gentleman Cassio points out that 
lago's ship could not have helped having a safe passage: 

Tempests themselves, high seas, and howling 


The gutter' d rocks and congregated sands, 
Traitors ensteep'd to enclog the guiltless keel, 
As having sense of beauty do omit 
Their mortal natures, letting go safely by 
The divine Desdemona. 


In the next line he is calling her "our great captain's captain," 
and a few lines after that, as the lady herself sets foot on shore, 
he says: 

You men of Cyprus, let her have your knees. 
Hail to thee, lady! and the grace of heaven, 
Before, behind thee, and on every hand, 
Enwheel thee roundl 


In sharp contrast to this business is lago's parody of praising, 
which follows immediately. The whole exchange between lago 
and Desdemona here is witty and on the surface not very serious, 
but we ignore it or treat it lightly to the detriment of our 
understanding. Joking or not, Desdemona points to the central 


fact about lago, his ignorant perversity, when she says to him, 
"O heavy ignorance! thou praisest the worst best" (II.i.144-145), 
and to Emilia, "Do not learn of him . . . though he be thy 
husband" (II.i.162-163). The ironic aptness of her judgment 
is soon borne out all too well by lago's serious observations to 
Roderigo, who shares Cassio's estimate of the lady and dislikes 
lago's slanderous insinuations about her. "She's full of most 
bless'd condition/' he says, to which lago replies, "Bless'd fig's- 
end! The wine she drinks is made of grapes" (II.i.254-257). But 
for lago, one might add, all wine is merely fermented grape 
juice. To one of his kind, matter is always matter, and there is 
no such thing as sacrament. 

lago's immediate business is to engage Roderigo in a plot 
against Cassio; and in this temptation of this weak but not 
unattractive young man, he plays the role of Satan suborning 
the serpent. What follows, most naturally, is the fall of man. 
Othello, now lord of the isle, has retired with his beloved, leaving 
his lieutenant, Cassio, in charge. His general instruction to the 
islanders has been that each man shall follow his inclination 
in a night of pleasure; his one prohibition to Cassio, "not to 
outsport discretion" (II.iii.3). It is interesting to note that 
lago first tries here to seduce Cassio by the same means that he 
has successfully used on Roderigo, that is, by seeking to inflame 
him with salty talk about Desdemona. lago's remarks run racily 
on with such spices as "sport for Jove , . . full of game . . . 
parley to provocation . . . alarum to love." But Cassio's remarks 
remain unobjectionable: "most equisite lady . . . most fresh and 
delicate creature . . . right modest . . . She is indeed perfection." 
Having failed in this, lago turns to a tack that goes better, "Well, 
happiness to their sheets! Come, lieutenant, I have a stoup of 
wine." In short, he hits upon the one thing that will cause 
Cassio, if he does it, to disobey Othello's injunction "not to 
outsport discretion." And Cassio, at his friend's insistence, 
drinks the second cup that is, for him, an abandonment of 
discretion and fatal disobedience. Maudlin in his cups, he 
mulls over the doctrine of election, "Well, God's above all; and 


there be souls must be saved, and there be souls must not be 
saved/' adding, "I hope to be saved"; and more pridefully in 
answer to lago's "so do I too/' "Ay, but, by your leave, not 
before me; the lieutenant is to be saved before the ancient" 

Thus is Cassio undone. The brawl, of which he remembers 
only indistinct fragments afterward, is the trivial consequence of 
his fall. The serious consequence which lago develops into 
full-blown tragedy is pronounced by Othello, "Cassio, I love 
thee;/But never more be officer of mine" (II.iii.248-249). 
This Cassio interprets as loss of reputation, a second death, 
worse by far than death of body. The line "Reputation, reputa- 
tion, reputation!" is frequently cited as Cassio's reaction to his 
fall, but even more revealing are the words defining reputation 
which follow: "I have lost the immortal part of myself, and 
what remains is bestial." Being bestial henceforth, being mortal 
hereafter, and being meanwhile subject to "one unperfectness" 
after anotherthese are the only things that Cassio has to look 
forward to, until lago suggests a plan of salvation. 

There is nothing at all wrong with the course lago suggests. 
He is never more right than when he says in soliloquy: 

. . . this advice is free I give and honest, 
Probal to thinking and indeed the course 
To win the Moor again. 


If Desdemona is indeed, as lago says, the general's general, 
what more proper than to seek her intercession? 

. . . confess yourself freely to her; importune 
her help to put you in your place again. She is 
of so free, so kind, so apt, so blessed a disposi- 
tion, she holds it a vice in her goodness not 
to do more than she is requested. This broken 
joint between you and her husband entreat her 
to splinter; and, my fortunes against any lay 


worth naming, this crack of your love shall 
grow stronger than it was before. 


The plan is proper and right. The only difficulty is that, however 
much Cassio may participate in the flesh and mortal sin of 
Adam and however deeply involved lago may be in the Devil, 
Desdemona is only a human intercessor and Othello is not God. 
This is the difficulty, however, that makes Othello tragedy 
rather than morality. Christian tragedy gets its force from the 
ironic casting of semidivine mankind in the divine patterns. 
Othello's glory is that he so beautifully, with his free and open 
nature, shows forth the divine office. His tragedy is that, in 
spite of this glory, he is far short of being divine and must, in 
doing his best, come out a fool. Cassio (being mortal like 
Adam) is the only one who is perfectly apt for the role he plays 
in this pattern. And because all the exemplars are, after all, 
only human beings, the "Divinity of Hell" is able to turn 
Desdemona's goodness into pitch, "And out of her goodness 
make the net / That shall enmesh them all" (II.iii.367-368). 
lago's hellishness succeeds, evil comes out of good, and the 
human agents who play the divine roles are disastrously en- 

Tragedy, except in the minds of people like those medieval 
commentators who compared it to a goat (bearded at the 
beginning and bare at the end), never ends in the mere hopeless 
fact of death. Although it does not deal in mathematical 
retribution, it always suggests or expresses some hope of a 
mysterious divine justice over, above, and beyond all the par- 
ticulars of human history whereby right may be vindicated and 
evil known. Though it is not the function of tragedy, whether 
Sophoclean or Shakespearean, to define the good, it is blindness 
to assert that tragedy denies a good. The greatness and the 
paradox of tragedy is that it discovers in human madness, in 
human senility, and even in humanity's bestial wickedness the 
glimmer of a transformed humanity that is dignified and noble 


and perhaps just barely possible. Christian tragedy shows us this 
by showing man, sometimes even at his human worst, participat- 
ing by analogy in the office of divinity. 

Othello, as I have already suggested, participates in many 
ways. He participates generally by giving commands and by 
delegating authority, by being first the military deliverer of 
Venice and later military governor of Cyprus. He participates 
more specifically, as we have seen, by his exaltation of Des- 
demona and by incurring the enmity of his ancient when he 
exalts Cassio. Of these two particulars, the first, one notes, is a 
purely private matter; the second, however, is part of his public 
duty. Othello's story, then, is no simple domestic tragedy of a 
man who spoke well in the Forum and came home to play the 
fool before his wife. It is the story of a man who displayed his 
nobility and folly equally at home and in the decisions of his 
public office. He loved Desdemona, he says, not wisely but too 
well, and so he did. For he loved her for what she saw in himself, 
and love of this kind not to be fatal must be wholly divine. 
His astounding aside over the sleeping body of Desdemona 
"This sorrow's heavenly; / It strikes where it doth love" (V.ii. 
21-22) suggests as has often been noted, Hebrews xn.6, "Whom 
the Lord loveth he chasteneth/ 7 Yet one should note, too, that 
the same sentiment lurks beneath Othello's seemingly charitable 
dismissal of Cassio, "Cassio, I love thee; / But never more be 
officer of mine" (II.iii.248-249). Othello always tends to in- 
corporate his love of others within a broad love of the good 
qualities in himself a godlike tendency, but limited and damn- 
able in men. Hence, one feels something less than pity at the 
extravagance with which Othello displays his first grief at the 
loss of his first and most dearly beloved: "O heavy hour! / 
Methinks it should be now a huge eclipse / Of sun and moon, 
and that th 7 affrighted globe / Did yawn at alteration" (V.ii. 
98401 ). Only one death ever got so much notice, and that 
death was followed by a physical resurrection. The physical 
Desdemona, as far as Othello knows at this point, is irremediably 


There are some who profess to see a kind of regeneration in 
Othello; others who see him damned. All one can be sure of is 
that Othello dies in possession of genuine knowledge. His life 
has been a "vain boast." "Who can control his fate?" he 
cries (V.ii.265). 

. . . O ill-starr 7 d wench! 

Pale as thy smock! when we shall meet at court, 
This look of thine will hurl my soul from heaven, 
And fiends will snatch at it. Cold, cold, my girl! 
Even like thy chastity. O cursed, cursed slave! 
Whip me, ye devils, 
From the possession of this heavenly sight! 


Whether this is for him regenerative knowledge and whether, 
if it is regenerative, he has gained it in time, is not for us to ask. 
The point is that Othello has achieved for us all a partial recogni- 
tion of the blindness that besets us. 

Desdemona's participation in the pattern dovetails with 
Othello's, yet it has its own special quality. Her function is to 
be innocent, in deed as in her own opinion. "A guiltless death 
I die," she says at the end; but she speaks once more in answer 
to Emilia's query about who did the murder. "Nobody; I 
myself. Farewell! / Commend me to my kind lord." Here she 
shows more knowledge than some have given her credit for. 
Desdemona accepts the office of intercessor for Cassio, carelessly 
or forgetfully neglects to pick up the fatal handkerchief, and lies 
venially when she cannot remember what she has done with it. 
In Act IV, Scene ii, Othello charges her histrionically with the 
role of whore; and in that same act Desdemona accepts her role, 
willfully yet humbly, not dreaming why she must do so. "Tis 
meet I should be us'd so, very meet," she tells Emilia. "How 
have I been behav'd, that he might stick / The smalTst opinion 
on my least misuse?" (IV.ii.107-109). The act she denies; the 
word she cannot bring herself to pronounce. "Beshrew me," 
she says, "if I would do such a wrong / For the whole world" 


(IV.iii.78-79) . And yet she goes so far as to defend her husband's 
displeasure, first directly, 

My love doth so approve him, 

That even his stubbornness, his checks, 

his frowns, 
. . . have grace and favour in them. 


and then inadvertently, though perhaps with subconscious in- 
tent, in Barbary's Willow Song: 

"Sing all a green willow must be my garland. 
Let nobody blame him, his scorn I approve," 
Nay, that's not next. 


The words have slipped out, but she means them; and in the 
last act, she dies by them. 

It is at this point, with Desdemona's death and Emilia's entry, 
that Cassio's survival comes to light. This is the Cassio, we 
recall, whose virtue Othello saw as being like his own, whose 
virtue so attracted Desdemona that she pleaded for him and so 
charmed lago that he was forced to say, "He hath a daily 
beauty in his life / That makes me ugly" (V.i. 19-20). This 
Cassio lives because Desdemona, who enlightened the black- 
amoor, attracted the serpentine Roderigo and made him jealous, 
and caused envy to spring up even in the devil lago, died 
bearing unjustly upon her bosom the sin of intemperate dis- 
obedience of which that same Cassio was justly accused. Thus 
through Shakespeare's tragedy of an honest Moor shine most of 
the details in Milton's divine comedy: God's creation of Adam, 
God's election of the Son, Satan's jealousy and seduction first 
of the serpent and then of mankind, man's fall and search for 
a mediator, the mediator's intercession and death, and the 
restoration of fallen man. Shakespeare's play, however, is not 


merely a reflector or a transparent transmitter of an ultimate 
truth. Primarily, it is a story at the literal level of a Moor who 
killed the dearest thing on earth to him, who "Like the base 
Indian, threw a pearl away / Richer than all his tribe" (V.ii.346- 
347) . We should see that first, and only that for a long time. 



UNLIKE Hamlet and Othello, Macbeth is not only a tragedy 
but a history play with obvious and significant implications for 
Shakespeare's audience. Like the Henry IV Henry V plays it 
says something important about the reign in which it was first 
produced. We are shown, among other things, how Scotland 
in days gone by was purged so that she might in time produce 
a monarch worthy to wear the triple crown. We are assured, 
moreover, that all this was providentially directed. But no 
matter how one looks at it, whether as history or as tragedy, 
Macbeth is distinctively Christian. One may simply count the 
Biblical allusions as Richmond Noble has done; 1 one may go 
further and study the parallels between Shakespeare's story and 
the Old Testament stories of Saul and Jezebel as Miss Jane H. 
Jack has done; 2 or one may examine with W. C. Curry the 
progressive degeneration of Macbeth from the point of view 
of medieval theology. 3 Roy Walker goes so far as to say, "If we 
are willing to admire Macbeth only on the understanding that 
the play must not be made too Christian we shall never know 
the tragedy that Shakespeare wrote." 4 And Miss Jack has 
written, "The explicitly Christian quality of Macbeth, the fact 
that it is an imaginative exploration of evil in Biblical terms, 


is the key to the tragedy/' 5 This chapter, which is indebted to 
all these investigators in one way or another, focuses attention 
on the nature of Macbeth's wickedness. It also rests upon the 
assumption that the comprehensive action of the play is 

^The one who has done the most _to clarify the action of 
Macbeth for us is Francis Fergusson, 6 who, as we have seen, 
performed a similar service in his essay on Hamlet. By action 
Fergusson means the motive or intent which defines not only 
the leading character's mode of being but the shape and texture 
of the entire play. If a play is truly unified, it has for its soul a 
unifying action, which makes plot, characters, and imagery all 
appear to spring from a single inspiration. ^The unifying action 
in Macbeth, he believes, is best expressed in a phrase that Mac- 
beth uses in Act II, Scene iii, when he excuses his murder of the 
grooms by saying that his love for Duncan "Outran the pauser, 
reason." Fergusson's essay is easily available and should be read 
carefully. There is space here only to reproduce his statement 
of what outrunning the pauser, reason, means: 

To "outrun" reason suggests an impossible stunt, like lifting oneself 
by one's own bootstraps. It also suggests a competition or race, like 
those of nightmare, which cannot be won. As for the word "reason," 
Shakespeare associates it with nature and nature's order, in the 
individual soul, in society, and in the cosmos. To outrun reason is 
thus to violate nature itself, to lose the bearings of common sense 
and of custom, and to move into a spiritual realm bounded by the 
irrational darkness of Hell one way, and the superrational grace of 
faith the other way. As the play develops before us, all the modes 
of this absurd, or evil, or supernatural, action are attempted, the last 
being Malcolm's and MacdufFs acts of faith. 7 

It is difficult to imagine a better statement of the action of 
Macbeth than this one. It is also difficult to imagine a statement 
more in accord with the essence of Christianity. One is reminded 
both of the Psalmist's, "The fool hath said in his heart, There is 
no God" (Psalms xiv.l; Lm.l), which speaks of the irrational 


darkness of the damned, and of St. Paul's description of the 
wisdom by which the world perishes and the "foolishness*' by 
which it may be saved: 

For the Jews require a sign 7 and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But 
we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto 
the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews 
and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. 
Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness 
of God is stronger than men. 

(1 Corinthians 1.22-25) 

Indeed these two passages from Scripture can help us to under- 
stand the situation in which Macbeth finds himself at the 
beginning of the action. 

Like Banquo, Macbeth has been given the special privilege 
of participating knowingly rather than unknowingly in that part 
of nature's "reasonable" order which concerns his own destiny. 
Thus he begins one step beyond what constitutes the boundary 
of "reason" for most of us and stands on the threshold of that 
spiritual realm of which Fergusson speaks, at the point where 
the irrational path to Hell and the suprarational path to Heaven 
diverge. All that is required of Macbeth is that he stand there. 
He has no command to do anything or even to be anything 
other than what he has always been; if he should act upon his 
special knowledge, he must take upon himself full responsibility 
for the consequences. Macbeth knows this. He knows that the 
witches have correctly identified him as Thane of Glamis and 
correctly, though in anticipation of his own knowledge, called 
him Thane of Cawdor; he even entertains the hope that they 
have correctly prophesied the "swelling act / Of the imperial 
theme" (I.iii. 128-129). Yet he also recognizes that he does not 
know who the witches are or by what authority they prophesy, 
and thus the most he allows to them is a knowledge of "chance": 
"If chance will have me King, why chance may crown me / 
Without my stir" (I.iii.143-144): In these two lines, however, 
he comes close to stating the principle that leads him a few 


hours later to oppose Lady Macbeth's frantic urging with, 
"Prithee, peace. / I dare do all that may become a man. / Who 
dares do more is none" (I.vii.45-47). Unfortunately, he forgets 
to stand upon this admirable principle and instead, by acting 
as if he were the sole author of his action, becomes involved in 
a chain of atrocities so frightful that we sometimes wonder 
whether Shakespeare did not hide a monster rather than a tragic 
hero under Macbeth 's initially amiable exterior. Mere acting, 
we observe, need not have involved him in such wickedness. 
Thus two questions confront us: first, what is the nature of 
Macbeth's extraordinary villainy? and second, what justification 
can we find for calling the story of such a man a tragedy? 

One interpretation of the play virtually forces a negative 
answer to the second question. Roy Walker has written that 
Macbeth is a man "by nature predisposed to evil." 8 If we take 
this point of view in its naked simplicity (and Walker does not 
quite ask us to do that) we cancel out the emphasis of tragedy, 
which is always on the protagonist's freedom, and always on his 
gain as well as on his loss. On the other hand, G. R. Elliott, in 
trying to rescue Macbeth from his latter-day "blackeners," gives 
a great deal of attention to Macbeth's essential goodness, 9 which 
he finds to be very much like that tragically limited humanity, or 
"fellow-feeling," that characterizes the average man. Elliott's 
corrective was needed, and we should be grateful for it; but we 
should ask ourselves whether in a somewhat different way it too 
does not tend to cancel out tragedy. All tragic heroes are like 
us in some respectg; otherwise we should not be interested in 
them. But their virtues and their vices are also pitched at a 
level considerably above our normal one. Macbeth throughout 
this play is presented as a man of uncommon potentialities. His 
potentialities for evil are, of course, easiest to see, and they are 
so fully demonstrated as the play progresses that we tend to 
overlook the proof of his extraordinary potentialities for good. 
It is with proof of these that the play begins. 
*At the start Macbeth is a man of great physical courage. 
Aside from the third witch's passing reference, the first thing we 


hear about him is the bleeding sergeant's account of how '"brave 
Macbeth" unseamed the merciless Macdomvald and then went 
on with Banquo at his side to fight 

As cannons overcharg'd with double cracks; so they 
Doubly redoubled strokes upon the foe. 
Except they meant to bathe in reeking wounds, 
Or memorize another Golgotha, 
I cannot tell. 


If we do not take one sergeant's word for it, we can certainly 
take Ross' word, which is that every post during the day has 
brought Macbeth 's praises in the kingdom's defense "thick as 
hail" (I.iii.97-100). Duncan acknowledges not only Macbeth's 
valor but his continuing loyalty when he makes him Thane of 
Cawdor; and, what is more important, the witches, who are 
truthful prophets whatever else they may be, have seen in 
advance his election to be King. The wave of temptation that 
sweeps over Macbeth as he meditates upon their announcement 
does not argue him so much predisposed to evil as predisposed 
to be ambitious and, moreover, predisposed to further his ambi- 
tion with his greatest natural endowment, <r bravery": 

This supernatural soliciting 

Cannot be ill, cannot be good. If ill, 

Why hath it given me earnest of success, 

Commencing in a truth? I'm thane of Cawdor. 

If good, why do I yield to that suggestion 

Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair 

And make my seated heart knock at my ribs, 

Against the use of nature? Present fears 

Are less than horrible imaginings. 

My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical, 

Shakes so my single state of man that function 

Is smothered in surmise, and nothing is 

But what is not. 

(Liii.l 30-142) 


The significant thing here is that Macbeth recognizes the tempta- 
tion for what it is a temptation to pit two of his great virtues, 
physical courage and loyalty to his King, against one another 
and, for the moment at least, can be horrified at the suggestion. 
Any temptation at all, even one to commit murder, would have 
argued Macbeth merely human; but this is an extraordinary 
temptation, born of what he has reason to believe is genuine 
foreknowledge, and Macbeth meets it on its own terms: "If 
chance will have me King, why chance may crown me / Without 
my stir/' Then he adds, "Come what come may, / Time and 
the hour runs through the roughest day" (146-147). For the 
moment this is enough. 

The next temptation proves that Macbeth is still a babe with 
far more knowledge than is good for him. Duncan's quixotic 
transfer of Cawdor's honors to Macbeth can only have suggested 
to him that all the fulfillment of prophecy will be as rapid as this 
part of it, and Duncan's announcement almost immediately 
thereafter that Malcolm is Prince of Cumberland and heir to 
the throne strains Macbeth's newly achieved accommodation of 
will and foreknowledge to the breaking point. His "black" 
meditation at this point marks a revival of his tendency to fall 
back on a support which he has proved by long testing his own 
physical prowess and resourcefulness: 

The Prince of Cumberland! That is a step 
On which I must fall down, or else o'erleap, 
For in my way it lies. Stars, hide your fires; 
Let not light see my black and deep desires; 
The eye wink at the hand; yet let that be 
Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see. 


Lady Macbeth is right when she says in the next scene that 
Macbeth is "not without ambition, but without / The illness 
should attend it" (Lv.20-21). By "illness" she undoubtedly 
means evil or cruelty, and her strategy is to add evil to a 
composition that does not have very much of it. Inadvertently 


she succeeds, but not by adding something. When she advises 
him to "beguile the time' 7 by looking like the time (I.v.64-65), 
she unwittingly urges him to abandon his conviction that "Time 
and the hour runs through the roughest day" in short, to make 
Time his fool. And when Macbeth tries to do that, he implicitly 
denies God and His providence outruns the pauser, reason and 
becomes himself a fool. Thereafter he has no choice but to be 

One brief reminder of his human insufficiency might have 
saved Macbeth at this point, but faulty human rationalization 
undoes him. We see what is happening to him in the opening 
soliloquy of Scene vii: 

If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well 
It were done quickly. If the assassination 
Could trammel up the consequence, and catch 
With his surcease success; that but this blow 
Might be the be-all and the end-all here, 
But here, upon this bank and shoal of time, 
We'd jump the life to come. 


Whereas only shortly before in his thinking Heaven and earth 
had been interpenetrated, now they are widely separated. Life 
on earth is one thing; life hereafter, another. And since the 
second life is largely conjectural, one may conceivably take the 
chance that it does not exist at all. If Heaven does not control 
Time, then Macbeth may safely venture to make Time his fool 
and fulfill the prophecy of the witches himself. We note that 
Macbeth here suggests four admirable reasons for not killing 
Duncan: Duncan is a kinsman, he is a king, he is a guest, and he 
is a good man (I.vii.l 3-25 ). But none of these moral reasons can 
have much force against a powerful ambition newly fortified by 
a denial of God, and in Scene vii Lady Macbeth's suggestion of 
ways and means proves too much for Macbeth's naked human 
morality to stand. In the last four lines of the scene (I.vii.79-82) 
he sums up his decision and his total defection from truth. 


"I am settled/' he says, "and bend up / Each corporal agent 
to this terrible feat." There is no invocation of chance or 
Providence here, only a fool's reliance upon the power that his 
material body can supply. The concluding couplet completes 
the demonstration of his folly: 

Away, and mock the time with fairest show; 
False face must hide what the false heart doth 


Time, as the rest of the play amply demonstrates, is not mocked; 
and Macbeth 's heart, now false indeed, has no longer any true 
knowledge at all. 

I have used the word forget to describe Macbeth's defection, 
but there is nothing accidental about what he does. He neither 
forgets nor disbelieves what the witches have told him, but he 
"forgets" about Providence when he decides to usurp the role 
of Providence, bring to pass that part of the prophecy he wants 
fulfilled, and frustrate all the rest of it. His will is very much 
involved here; he chooses a course that is opposed to his earlier 
and better judgment and "settles" himself in it. Christian 
doctrine has a word for this kind of defection, apostasy. Apostasy 
is said to be the sin against the Holy Ghost. It involves coming 
into full knowledge and then falling away. Several passages in 
the Bible refer to it, but the one most commonly cited is in 

For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of 
the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain 
fearful looking for judgment and fiery indignation, which shall 
devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses' law died without 
mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, 
suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot 
the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, where- 
with he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto 
the Spirit of grace? 

(Hebrews x.26-29) 


Ministers nowadays do not spend much time warning their 
congregations against apostasy, but the ministers of Shakespeare's 
time warned against it frequently. 10 One of them, John Den- 
nison, in "A Sermon: Wherein the Sinne against the Holy-Ghost 
is plainely described/ 7 characterizes it as a "witting, willing, 
malicious, and total" abandonment of the truth whereby the 
offender continues in his way and endures while still on earth 
the torment of the damned. 11 Dennison's references in the 
course of his sermon to vexation of soul and vain knocking at 
the door suggest, though probably by accident, a comparison 
with Macbeth: 

when men are forsaken of God, they are deliuered to the Diuell: not 
for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saued in the 
day of the Lord, as the Corinthian was. But to be vexed in soule and 
body hereafter as Saul was. And then what followes our Sauiour 
shewes in the persons of the blasphemous Pharisees: When the 
vncleane spirit hauing beene cast out returneth, he brings with him 
seauen spirits worse then himself e, which doe enter and dwell there 
and taking vp their habitation, doe shut fast the doore of the heart, 
so that, albeit the spirit of God doe knocke againe and againe, yet 
can it finde no entrance, and that causeth such a lamentable effect, 
The latter end of that man is worse then the beginning. 12 

The point is sometimes made that apostasy is the sin for which 
no pardon is possible. Roman Catholics and Anglicans alike 
deny this view. God alone may pardon it, say the Romans, but 
there can be no doubt that God will pardon it, provided the 
sinner makes a proper repentance. 13 Similarly, Anglicans insist 
that God will receive any repentance for any sin and cite the sin 
of apostasy as the extreme example. The statement given in the 
Elizabethan Homilies is as follows: 

the final falling away from Christ and his gospel ... is a sin against 
the Holy Ghost, that shall never be forgiven, because they that do 
utterly forsake the known truth, do hate Christ and his word, they 
do crucify and mock him, (but to their utter destruction,) and 
therefore fall into desperation, and cannot repent. 14 


Total apostasy, by definition, is unforgivable only because it 
precludes repentance, without which forgiveness is impossible. 
The questions which the observer can never answer with 
finality have to do with the degree of apostasy (which God alone 
knows) and the possibility (never to be ruled out) of a merciful 
dispensation of grace sufficient to enable the sinner to repent 
at his last moment. 

Apostasy, says Dennison at one point in his sermon, is 
precisely analogous to the revolt of a soldier in the field against 
his colors and his captain. This, interestingly enough, is the 
analogy that we see between the first Thane of Cawdor and his 
successor, Macbeth. Like Macbeth, the earlier Thane was a 
"prosperous gentleman" (I.iii.73) who abandoned his loyalty, 
became a traitor, and paid the penalty. The apparent difference 
between the two lies in the earlier Thane's satisfactory re- 

. . . very frankly he confess'd his treasons, 
Implor'd your Highness' pardon, and set forth 
A deep repentance. Nothing in his life 
Became him like the leaving it. He died 
As one that had been studied in his death 
To throw away the dearest thing he ow'd 
As 'twere a careless trifle. 


The difference, for all we know, may be more apparent than real. 
All we really know about the Thane of Cawdor is that he 
rebelled against Duncan and repented of his mistake. Macbeth's 
rebellion was not primarily against Duncan but against a higher 
power than Duncan, and to that power he had to repent 
directly, if at all; his murder of Duncan followed as the first, but 
most important, of a series of consequences. 

At the beginning of Act II we find Macbeth firmly settled in 
his plotting and sure of his course. To Banquo, who has had a 
similar gift of foreknowledge and similar temptations (II.i.7-9) 
but still has the grace to admit as much and ask for divine help, 
he callously lies that he has not thought of the weird sisters 


(II.i.21 ) and deviously proposes further discussion of the matter. 
When the dagger appears to him a few minutes later, he puzzles 
briefly about the nature of it and then observes that it "mar- 
shalFst me the way that I was going, / And such an instrument 
I was to use" (II.i.42-43). With the blindness that is char- 
acteristic of apostasy, he neither sees nor cares about anything 
except the operation of his own will and the direction it has 
chosen. Shakespeare, however, has made it possible for us to 
see something that Macbeth is not able to see, and he has done 
this by pointing up the analog}* between the murder of Duncan 
and the crucifixion. We note that the fantastic storm which 
accompanies the murder has not actually begun when Macbeth 
ascends the stairs; it is presumably in progress as he descends. 
As the Old Man in Scene iv says, "this sore night / Hath trifled 
former knowings" (II.iv.3-4), but Shakespeare has managed to 
pack into the various reports of it a suggestion of all the details 
that St. Matthew reports about the storm that followed the 
death of Jesus: 

And behold the veil of the temple was rent in twain From the top 
to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; and the 
graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose. 

(Matthew xxvn.51-52) 
Macduff reports the murder thus: 

Confusion now hath made his masterpiece! 
Most sacrilegious murder hath broke ope 
The Lord's anointed temple, and stole thence 
The life o' th ? building. 


Lennox tells of many strange reports, among them one that 
"the earth / Was feverous and did shake" (II.iii.65-66). Mac- 
duff rouses Banquo, Donalbain, and Malcolm by calling them to 
reenact the same anticipation of Judgment Day that caused the 
saints in Jerusalem to leave their graves: 


Shake off this downy sleep, death's counterfeit, 
And look on death itself! Malcolm! Banquo! 
As from your graves rise up, and walk like sprites, 
To countenance this horror! Ring the bell. 


And Lady Macbeth, entering, completes MacdufF s metaphor 
with, "What's the business, / That such a hideous trumpet calls 
to parley /The sleepers of the house?'' (II.iii.86-88). These 
reminders of crucifixion and Judgment Day linked by the com- 
mon detail of the resurrection of the dead bring back to mind 
the words of the bleeding sergeant in Act I, when he said of 
Banquo and Macbeth that "they meant to bathe in reeking 
wounds, / Or memorize another Golgotha" (I.ii. 39-40). Mac- 
beth has now literally done both of these things and justified 
the sergeant's hyperbole. The little world of Inverness, where 
only shortly before "heaven's breath smelt wooingly" (, 
now bereft of its King and shortly to be abandoned by its saints, 
already has become the hell that its porter drunkenly has 
imagined it to be. 

The easiest interpretation to put on all this is that Macbeth 
has here delivered himself over to the Devil or to diabolical 
powers. In a sense this is true. Macbeth is certainly diabolical, 
and he does the Devil's work; but like the Devil he has willed 
himself into his desperate position, and he is captive of nothing 
except the Providence he chose to ignore. The precise term for 
him is still apostate, as another quotation from Hebrews makes 

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have 
tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy 
Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of 
the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto 
repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, 
and put him to an open shame. For the earth which drinketh in the 
rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for 
them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: But that 


which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; 
whose end is to be burned. 

(Hebrews vi.4-8) 

Shakespeare's treatment of the murder of Duncan as an analog 
to the crucifixion puts the state of Macbeth precisely in line 
with the central point of this passage: Macbeth, by analogy, has 
crucified his Lord afresh and put him to an open shame. And 
this grave sin is both the consequence of his deviation and 
penalty for it. Henceforth he will be "nigh unto cursing" (which 
is not quite the same as being absolutely accursed) and will live 
out the rest of his life, as far as we are allowed to see it, in a hell 
of his own making. 

Macbeth's hell has three significant characteristics: first, a 
growing recognition of his predicament; second, a patent in- 
ability to get out of it (he cannot repent); and, third, a general 
restlessness which commits him alternately to fits of tedium and 
to senseless and frequently murderous acts of desperation. No 
sooner has he murdered Duncan than he finds himself troubled 
(somewhat naively, it must appear to us) about why he cannot 
say "Amen" to the sleeping groom's "God bless us!" 

But wherefore could not I pronounce "Amen"? 
I had most need of blessing, and "Amen" 
Stuck in my throat. 


Although a few lines farther on he says that he is afraid to think 
what he has done (51), by the end of the scene he knows well 
enough what he has done and wishes it were undone: 

To know my deed, 'twere best not know myself. 
Wake Duncan with thy knocking! I would 

thou couldst! 


In Scene iii, with the confusion swirling about him, he comes 
privately to an acknowledgment of where he now stands: 


Had I but died an hour before this chance, 
I had liv'd a blessed time; for, from this instant, 
There's nothing serious in mortality. 
All is but toys; renown and grace is dead; 
The wine of life is drawn, and the mere lees 
Is left this vault to brag of. 


This recognition suggests a condition so "nigh unto cursing" 
that one might almost be justified in pronouncing it spiritual 
death and completely accursed. But there is more to Macbeth's 
punishment than this. 

The Hebrew proverb says of the man who has preserved the 
wisdom of the Lord in his life, "When thou liest down, thou 
shalt not be afraid; yea, thou shalt lie down, and thy sleep shall 
be sweet" (Proverbs m.24). Macbeth presumably knew the 
meaning of this throughout most of his life; but as he is on his 
way to kill Duncan, he reveals that he has suddenly all but for- 
gotten what such peaceful sleep is like: "Now o'er the one half- 
world / Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse / The 
curtain'd sleep (II.i.49-51). After Duncan is dead, an unidenti- 
fied voice jogs his memory: 

"Sleep no morel 
Macbeth does murder sleep." the innocent 


Sleep that knits up the ravell'd sleave of care, 
The death of each day's life, sore labour's bath, 
Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course, 
Chief nourisher in life's feast. 


Macbeth is counting blessings here that he has lost; for the 
sleep that he has murdered is not merely Duncan's but his own, 
as the voice, continuing, makes clear: "Glamis hath murder'd 
sleep, and therefore Cawdor / Shall sleep no more; Macbeth 
shall sleep no more" (II.ii.42-43). Macbeth continues to 


threaten the sleep of others, of course. After Banquo, too, is 
dead and his ghost has disrupted the great banquet at Forres, 
Lennox recalls how Macbeth "rashly" invaded the sleep of the 
two grooms (, and an unnamed lord looks forward 
to a time that will "Give to our tables meat, sleep to our nights" 
( Yet Macbeth fares worse than any of his victims. 
He observes that Duncan "After life's fitful fever . . . sleeps well"; 
nothing can touch him further (III.ii.23-26). He himself can 
only threaten that he will 

... let the frame of things disjoint, both 

the worlds suffer, 

Ere we will eat our meal in fear and sleep 
In the affliction of these terrible dreams 
That shake us nightly. 


With his mind now "full of scorpions" (III.ii.36), he sees night 
as something designed primarily to provide cover for mischief 
(46-50); in contrast to the "Good things of day" it has only 
"black agents" that "to their preys do rouse" (52-53). Thus 
when his waking night of the banquet has in spite of wakefulness 
turned into a nightmare, he stands in the empty hall talking of 
blood until Lady Macbeth ironically observes, "You lack the 
season of all natures, sleep" (III.iv.141), and then goes to bed 
by daylight. 

Along with the increasing terror of dreams Macbeth has the 
increasing terror of recognition. In his soliloquy before the 
murder of Duncan, he was confident enough to be willing to 
"jump the life to come." In the soliloquy that precedes his con- 
ference with the murderers of Banquo, he sings a slightly dif- 
ferent tune: 

For Banquo's issue have I fiTd my mind; 
For them the gracious Duncan have I murder' d, 
Put rancours in the vessel of my peace 
Only for them; and mine eternal jewel 


Given to the common enemy of man, 
To make them kings. 


Macbeth can now see that he has defiled his mind and that the 
victim of that defilement was an innocent man, but even so, he 
speaks only of "rancours in the vessel of my peace"; he cannot 
repent of his deed because he still cannot see where he first went 
wrong. His terror is born of the knowledge, now certain, that 
he has given his "eternal jewel" to the Devil. Yet he has staked 
everything upon his decision to outwit Providence, "here, upon 
this bank and shoal of time," and from this course he does not 
deviate: "come fate into the list," he says, "And champion me 
to th' utterance" (IIU71-72). 

Macbeth's second visit to the witches is marked by the same 
specious confidence. He thanks the first apparition for the 
warning against Macduff. After a momentary hesitation, he 
assures the second, who says that "none of woman bom / Shall 
harm Macbeth" (IV.i.80-81), that he will "make assurance 
double sure / And make a bond of fate" (IV.i.83-84). When 
the third apparition promises that "Macbeth shall never van- 
quish'd be until / Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill / 
Shall come against him" (92-94), he laughs at the folly of such 
a contingency and exults in what seems to him his own triumph 
over time and mortality: 

. . . never till the wood 

Of Bimam rise, and our high-plac'd Macbeth 
Shall live the lease of nature, pay his breath 
To time and mortal custom. 


The "show of Eight Kings," however, which follows immediately 
(upon Macbeth's own request to know more), brings forth an 
unwittingly damning repudiation of devilish trumpery. "In- 
fected be the air whereon they ride," he cries, "And damn'd all 
those that trust them" (138-139). Even the information that 


Macduff has fled to England does not enlighten him. He simply 
renews his resolution to outdo his declared adversary: 

Time, thou anticipat'st my dread exploits: 
The flighty purpose never is o'ertook 
Unless the deed go with it. From this moment 
The very firstlings of my heart shall be 
The firstlings of my hand. 


Macbeth 's determination to resort to rashness from now on is 
the last stage of his outrunning reason and his opposition to 
Providence; and, providential as that rashness itself may be, it 
reveals the desperateness of his situation and the utter sickness 
of his soul. Macbeth is indeed, as Malcolm puts it, "ripe for 
shaking" (IV.iii.238). 

At the beginning of Act V, Shakespeare presents one of the 
most terrifying parodies of sleep in literature. The Doctor 
describes Lady Macbeth's performance there as "A great per- 
turbation in nature, to receive at once the benefit of sleep and 
do the effects of watching 7 ' (V.UO-12). Precisely what the 
sleepwalking scene indicates about the state of Lady Macbeth's 
soul is not for us to decide, but we can agree with the Doctor 
both when he says, "More needs she the divine than the phy- 
sician" (V.i.82), and when he says, "Therein the patient / Must 
minister to himself (V.ii.45-46). His words, of course, are 
equally applicable to Macbeth, who is now so spiritually ill that 
he can scarcely remember the "taste of fear." "The time has 
been," he says, "my senses would have cooFd / To hear a night 
shriek" (V.v.l 0-11); but now his senses are so dull that he 
receives the news of his Queen's death with an unfeeling "She 
should have died hereafter" (V.v.17). To one for whom all 
life has become a sleepless nightmare, mere darkness, whether of 
night or of death, is meaningless. Macbeth knows this, and he 
knows also the most that mere daylight can offer to him or to 
any other apostate: "To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-mor- 
row / Creeps in this petty pace from day to day / To the last 


syllable of recorded time; / And all our yesterdays have lighted 
fools / The way to dusty death" ( 19-23) . He has not yet reached 
total despair, but he comes dangerously close to it when the 
messenger's report that Birnam wood has suddenly become a 
moving grove fulfills the seemingly impossible condition of the 
third apparition. His words now reveal him to be on the thresh- 
old of hopelessness: "I gin to be aweary of the sun, / And wish 
th' estate o' th' world were now undone" (49-50). Yet our 
applause for the vigorous "Blow, wind! come, wrack! / At least 
we'll die with harness on our back" (51-52), with which he 
meets the challenge, is surely premature. A lingering hope that 
he may still outwit the patently contradictory decrees of Provi- 
dence motivates him here. What appears to be a revival of his 
old spirit is simply the desperate rally of a fool. 

Much as he may curse the witches or "doubt the equivocation 
of the fiend / That lies like truth" (V.v.43-44), he still clings 
to the promise of the second apparition that none of woman 
born shall harm him. Thus he faces with equanimity both the 
taunts and the sword of young Siward and slays easily one more 
man born of women. Confronted by Macduff, however, who 
proclaims the proper qualification to be Macbeth's executioner, 
Macbeth does indeed despair and for the first time in his life 
declines to fight: 

Acursed be that tongue that tells me so, 
For it hath cow'd my better part of man! 
And be these juggling fiends no more believ'd 
That palter with us in a double sense, 
That keep the word of promise to our ear, 
And break it to our hope. I'll not fight with thee. 


Macbeth's own easy explanation of his undoing here if we take 
it as being that is certainly not the explanation of the play. 
The juggling fiends usually have no power over a man who has 
not first tried to wear the mask of self-sufficiency, nor do Shake- 


speare's fiends deceive Macbeth until he has voluntarily put on 
the blindfold. What follows is a long and desperate game in 
which they see while Macbeth stumbles in the dark. The end 
of their game is to reveal him the fool he has elected to be and 
to make him a coward. 

MacdufFs acceptance of Macbeth on his own terms 'Then 
yield thee, coward" (V.viii.23) marks the end of Macbeth's 
playing at blind man's buff. His few words after that smack of 
neither folly nor blindness: 

I will not yield, 

To kiss the ground before young Malcolm's feet 
And to be baited with the rabble's curse. 
Though Birnam wood be come to Dunsinane, 
And thou opposed, being of no woman born, 
Yet I will try the last. Before my body 
I throw my warlike shield. Lay on, Macduff, 
And damn'd be him that first cries, "Hold, 



Here with the mask thrown aside he sees the folly of his attempt 
to play God and bend Providence to his own will. All he has 
left is the remnant of that great virtue with which he began. 
We may call it bravery, valor, courage, or "manly readiness," 
which is Macbeth's own term (II.iii.139); and it is admirable in 
its way, but it cannot save him. In spite of his apostasy he has 
undoubtedly served God's providence; for we assume that God 
had elected to correct Scotland in some way and prepare it for 
a much greater role in history under the treble scepter of 
Banquo's descendant, James VI. The choice of the way was 
partly Macbeth's, and he chose foolishly. 

The pathos of his action becomes apparent when we reflect 
that with both his bravery and the recognition of his creature- 
liness that he was able to declare in that second scene with his- 
wife ("I dare do all that may become a man. / Who dares do 
more is none"), Macbeth might have served Scotland well as 


the Lord's anointed and ended his days heirless but with the 
honor, love, obedience, and troops of friends that on the day of 
his defeat he yearned for (V.iii.22-28). Yet having dared to do 
more than becomes man, he found himself qualified for only 
one angelic role, that of the apostate black angel. Thus he went 
on to play the scourge, and thus in the end he had to endure a 
similar scourging at the hands of another divinely appointed 
avenger. Macbeth's discovery at the end is really a recovery, at 
a terrible price, of that tiny essential bit of knowledge that he 
held in his hands briefly at the beginning, undervalued, and 
tossed aside: "Come what come may, / Time and the hour runs 
through the roughest day." After Macbeth is dead, Malcolm 
says, "The time is free" (V.viii.55); but we should not forget 
that briefly before the end Macbeth was finally free of his fool's 
dream of shackling time. Nothing in Macbeth's life became 
him quite like the leaving it; he died cleaner than he began, and 
he died with his manly readiness still about him. Undoubtedly 
this, too, was part of the providential plan. 


'N THE SURFACE it might seem that no story could be less 
promising as material for Christian tragedy than that of Antony 
and Cleopatra. As Franklin M. Dickey in his book on Shake- 
speare's love tragedies has shown, writers from classical times to 
Shakespeare's time almost unanimously condemned the foul 
and wasteful passion of the two lovers; 1 and, if Dickey is right 
in his interpretation of the play, Shakespeare has preserved the 
essential ingredients of this condemnatory tradition. Not all 
critics, however, will agree with Dickey's reading of Shake- 
speare's play. Dickey himself lists a number of respectable 
critics, including A. C. Bradley, R. H. Case, Mark Van Doren, 
Donald Stauffer, and G. Wilson Knight, who have been inclined 
to view the passion of Antony and Cleopatra in Shakespeare's 
treatment of it as somehow transcending normal human limita- 
tions to become worth at least part of all the trouble it caused. 2 
One may question whether these two views of the play are 
really as incompatible as they appear to be. Both are focused 
on the passion as a thing in itself, over and above the characters 
who participate in it; and wherever human passion is represented 
as complexly and as faithfully as it is in this play, it is likely to 
provoke disapproval from some and evoke praise from others. 


At the risk of seeming perverse, I suggest that both of these 
views are allowable and even necessary in a full estimate of the 
play, but that the focus which has produced them is question- 
able. We may call Antony and Cleopatra a love tragedy if we 
like; love or, more properly, lust certainly provides the ground 
and occasion for much of the activity in it. But it is no more a 
play primarily about lust than Henry V is a play primarily about 
war. Lust, like war, usually turns out to be the dreary and 
wasteful business that moralists tell us it is; but, like most other 
wasteful human activities, lust can sometimes provide the oc- 
casion for a discovery of human potential that makes the waste 
seem worthwhile. Shakespeare's Antony may behave like a fool 
and his Cleopatra like a childish flirt; but they both have an 
extraordinary vitality that sets them apart from other people, 
and in the course of their action they discover a capacity for 
selflessness that truly distinguishes them. By stressing this 
aspect of the story, Shakespeare has managed to transcend the 
traditional moral exemplum and create a tragedy. 

The unifying action of the play is suggested by a phrase which 
Caesar uses in the last scene when he observes that the dead 
Cleopatra looks "As she would catch another Antony / In her 
strong toil of grace" (V.ii.350-351). Regardless of what "catch 
an Antony" means to Caesar here, to catch an Antony that is, 
to catch an image of human greatness is precisely what Cleo- 
patra has managed to do. And it is what all the principal char- 
acters, with varying degrees of awareness, have been trying to do 
since the beginning of the play. Caesar is a possible exception, 
because on the surface at least he seems to think greatness is 
already his. Thus we find him at the end coolly assuming all 
the glory for what has happened: "their story is / No less in 
pity than his glory which / Brought them to be lamented" 
(V.ii. 364-366). Antony, however, longed for human greatness 
throughout his life, repeatedly snatched at it, and sometimes 
almost grasped it. Enobarbus, we may say, longed to share in 
that greatness vicariously, but came to recognize Antony's 
potential for it only after he had forfeited his chance to share: 


O Antony, 

Nobler than my revolt is infamous, 
Forgive me in thine own particular; 
But let the world rank me in register 
A master-leaver and a fugitive. 
O Antony! O Antony! 


An image of human greatness is also what Cleopatra, like 
Enobarbus, belatedly comes to see in the memory of her para- 
mour, what she begins to find for herself only when she accepts 
Antony in death, and what she articulates magnificently shortly 
thereafter. "I dream'd there was an Emperor Antony. / O such 
another sleep, that I might see / But such another man?" she 

His face was as the heavens; and therein stuck 
A sun and moon, which kept their course and 


The little O, the earth 

His legs bestrid the ocean; his rear'd arm 
Crested the world; his voice was propertied 
As all the tuned spheres, and that to friends; 
But when he meant to quail and shake the orb, 
He was as rattling thunder. For his bounty, 
There was no winter in't; an autumn 'twas 
That grew the more by reaping. His delights 
Were dolphin-like; they show'd his back above 
The element they liv'd in. In his livery 
Walk'd crowns and crownets; realms and islands 


As pktes dropped from his pocket. . , . 
Think you there was or might be such a man 
As this I dream'd of? 


Dolabella, who, like most critics, has seen only Antony's element 
and missed the dolphin back rising above it, answers honestly, 


"Gentle madam, no." But Cleopatra, who knows what she 
knows, will not let his denial go unchallenged: 

You lie, up to the hearing of the gods! 
But, if there be or ever were one such, 
It's past the size of dreaming. Nature wants 


To vie strange forms with fancy; yet fimagine 
An Antony were nature's piece 'gainst fancy, 
Condemning shadows quite. 


In this speech Cleopatra grasps the truth that makes possible the 
full development of Antony and Cleopatra as a tragedy. For in 
destroying Antony's opportunity to realize his potential or, bet- 
ter, in frittering away her own opportunity to help him realize 
that potential she has gained an image of greatness that Antony 
even in luckier times and circumstances might never have 
matched. In a way she herself perhaps does not quite realize, 
she has caught her Antony, the Antony that never quite was. 
Her vision is a glorious thing for anybody to achieve, but the 
unanswerable question of this or of any tragedy is, "Was the 
vision worth all the suffering and waste that it cost to achieve it?" 
A more nearly answerable question but one to which critics 
still give varying answers has to do with the nature of the man 
from whom this vision was generated. Shakespeare's presenta- 
tion of Antony is considerably more sympathetic than Plutarch's, 3 
provided we take his whole representation of Antony and not 
merely the view he gives us of him in the first scene of Act I. 
There all we see is a general in his "dotage," whose heart has 
"become the bellows and the fan / To cool a gipsy's lust" 
(Li.9-10). He walks across the stage, pushing messengers aside 
and shouting his fatuous, "Let Rome in Tiber melt, and the 
wide arch / Of the rang'd empire fall!" (I.i.33-34). Yet even in 
this scene we get a feeling that Antony is potentially greater 
than he seems to be: "Sir," says Philo, "sometimes, when he is 


not Antony, / He comes too short of that great property / 
Which still should go with Antony" (Li. 57-59). And even here, 
that great property is only just below the surface. The news of 
Fulvia's death in Scene ii brings him immediately to a sense 
of guilt at his neglect of her and his neglect of the responsibilities 
of his office; and from his resolution to make what amends he 
can, neither the cynicism of Enobarbus nor the wiles of Cleo- 
patra can dissuade him. This is the Antony that Lepidus, whom 
the play judges as being of Antony's stuff though equal to him 
only in charity, sees and defends: 

I must not think there are 
Evils enow to darken all his goodness. 
His faults, in him, seem as the spots of heaven, 
More fiery by night's blackness; hereditary, 
Rather than purchased; what he cannot change, 
Than what he chooses. 


Caesar, whom the play judges quite differently, sees only what is 
most convenient for him to see, and describes an Antony who 
"fishes, drinks, . . . wastes / The lamps of night in revel" 
(I.iv.4-5), and outdoes Cleopatra in effeminacy. "You shall 
find there," he adds, "A man who is the abstract of all faults / 
That all men follow" (I.iv.8-10). Caesar is too clever (honesty 
is not one of his virtues in this play) to pretend that Antony 
was never worthy of confidence. Antony is, after all, one of his 
"partners." Moreover, men still remember the famine that 
dogged Antony on his retreat from Modena, during which he 
drank "The stale of horses and the gilded puddle / Which beasts 
would cough at" and ate "strange flesh, / Which some did die 
to look on" (I.iv.55-68). This Antony, Caesar admits, was 
soldierly enough; but he hastens to recall an image of the 
present Antony: "Let his shames quickly / Drive him to Rome" 

In spite of what Caesar says, Antony's behavior in the next 
two acts measurably increases our respect for him. In addition 


to his human penchant for easy living 4 (a penchant, we should 
note, that he seems to be able to leash and unleash at will), the 
thing that gets Antony into trouble is his easy generosity: he 
tries to observe more loyalties than the nature of things will 
allow. We have already seen how his loyalty to Cleopatra, who 
was at first clearly unworthy of it, caused him to neglect his wife 
at Rome and the duties of his commission; yet when his responsi- 
bilities at Rome pressed themselves upon him, he responded 
promptly, all the while protesting with obvious sincerity his 
undiminished affection for Cleopatra: "By the fire / That quick- 
ens Nilus' slime, I go from hence / Thy soldier, servant" (I.iii. 
68-70) . In his meeting with Caesar in Act II he handles himself 
with dignity and becoming humility. He speaks respectfully 
and admiringly of the dead Fulvia (II.ii.61-64) and excuses as 
best he can the trouble she has made for Caesar. He freely 
admits the "poisoned hours" that corrupted his judgment, yet 
he does not condemn Cleopatra and he does not grovel: 

As nearly as I may, 

Fll play the penitent to you; but mine honesty 
Shall not make poor my greatness, nor my power 
Work without it. 


His behavior here moves both Lepidus and Macenas to praise, 
and it prompts Agrippa to suggest the marriage with Octavia. To 
this Antony readily agrees and reaffirms his loyalty to Caesar: 
"from this hour / The heart of brothers govern in our loves / 
And sway our great designs!" (II. ii. 149-1 51) He would be loyal 
to Pompey too, if that were possible (ILii.156-160); but Lepidus 
persuades him that it is not. In the Roman scenes that follow, 
he lives up admirably to his own statement of intention: "I have 
not kept my square; but that to come / Shall all be done by th' 
rule" (II.iii.6-7). He is loyal to Caesar, courteous to Pompey, 
genial and gay but not undignified at the feast on board 
Pompey's galley, and all understanding to the distracted Octavia 
when it becomes apparent that Caesar has chosen to play false 


and leave his unfortunate sister caught in the middle (IILiv. 

Plutarch's Antony gave Caesar some cause for duplicity, 5 but 
Shakespeare's gives him none. Antony's general, Ventidius, 
makes an unauthorized conquest of Parthia; but Antony knows 
nothing of this, nor does he make suspicious moves in the 
direction of Rome. He sits quietly in Athens with his new wife 
until the news of Caesar's double dealing, which includes also 
the removal of Lepidus, breaks upon him. Caesar dissembles 
habitually; Cleopatra dissembles naively, frivolously, and at the 
end disastrously; but Antony never dissembles at all. Whatever 
else he may be, he is as open as daylight; and this very openness, 
combined with his sense of loyalty, brings him to disaster and 
despair. Trusting Caesar, he lets the odds build up against him; 
trusting Cleopatra, he violates his own better judgment and that 
of his generals to stake his fortunes on an unreliable Egyptian 
fleet in the engagement at Actium. When Cleopatra and her 
fleet fail him, he sadly advises his attendants to take the one 
remaining ship of treasure and flee to Caesar. "I have fled my- 
self/' he tells them, "I follow'd that I blush to look upon; / My 
very hairs do mutiny" (III.xi.7-13). To Cleopatra he complains 
bitterly, "O, whither hast thou led me, Egypt?" (III.xi.51); 
but when she begs his pardon, he gives it and settles for a kiss. 
From this point on, his cup only grows more bitter. His appeal 
to Caesar brings a rebuff and a covert attempt to win Cleopatra 
away from him. His rash attempt to challenge Caesar to single 
combat brings him the contempt of Enobarbus. Finally, he 
comes upon Cleopatra as she is kissing the hand of Caesar's 
messenger and gives way completely. "O, that I were / Upon 
the hill of Basan," he cries after berating her as an impediment 
to his hopes, a liar, and a promiscuous wench, "to outroar / The 
horned herd. For I have savage cause; / And to proclaim it 
civilly were / A halter'd neck which does the hangman thank / 
For being yare about him" (III.xiii.126-131). But Antony is 
not upon the hill of Basan, at least not quite. 

The allusion here is to Psalm xxn, which by almost any 


criterion is one of the most striking of the so-called Messianic 
Psalms. It begins with the words used by Christ on the cross, 
"My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" 6 and continues, 
after a few verses, 

But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of 
the people. All they that see me laugh me to scorn; they shoot out 
the lip, they shake the head, saying, He trusted on the Lord that 
he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him. 
... Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help. 
Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset 
me round. They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening 
and a roaring lion. 


It would be irrelevant to object here either that Antony's 
allusion, taken as a reference to Christ, involves him in an 
anachronism or that Shakespeare's application of it constitutes 
blasphemy. To the Elizabethan audience and readers it pointed 
as few other allusions could have to Antony's participation in 
the common ground of humanity, seen here as the ground of 
the Incarnation; but it probably never suggested to any Eliza- 
bethan that Antony is in any technical sense a figure of the 
Christ. Quite obviously the speaker in Psalm xxii, surrounded 
by scorners and tormentors, behaves with Christlike submissive- 
ness. Just as obviously, Antony does not behave so; for he would 
strike back if he could, "outroar the horned herd/' and proclaim 
his misfortune with anything but meek civility. But just as 
Richard IFs reference to his "sour cross" brought sharply to 
mind both Richard's Christlike office and his un-Christiike 
demeanor, so Antony's reference to the psalm brings into focus 
the ironic contrast between the Antony of common repute and 
that image of goodness in him which has been visible almost 
from the beginning of the play. Here at the center of the play 
Shakespeare underscores strikingly Antony's uniqueness and his 
claim to greatness. 
There have, of course, been several other suggestions of 


Antony's special character before this point. Readers familiar 
with the Old Testament must have seen in Antony's story certain 
resemblances to the story of Samson, who has often been treated 
as a type of Christ. 7 Like Samson, Antony has his Delilah to 
tempt him from his destiny; but, even more important, Antony, 
like Samson the Nazarite, has a special destiny. Philo alludes to 
it in that first scene, when he speaks of "the great property / 
Which still should go with Antony" (I.i.58-59). Cleopatra 
perhaps recognizes it faintly when she calls him "The demi-Atlas 
of this earth, the arm / And burgonet of men" (I.v.23-24). The 
Egyptian soothsayer in Rome apparently knows all about it, for 
he advises Antony to get quickly back to Egypt and leave Caesar: 

Therefore, O Antony, stay not by his side. 
Thy demon, that thy spirit which keeps thee, is 
Noble, courageous, high, unmatchable, 
Where Caesar's is not; but, near him, thy angel 
Becomes a fear, as being o'erpower'd; therefore 
Make space between you. 


To the soothsayer as to Agrippa (who perhaps speaks better 
than he knows), Antony is indeed the "Arabian bird" (III.ii.12), 
the only one of his kind, mortal wherever he may be, but immortal 
only in the East, and even there only through death. Antony 
does not understand the soothsayer, of course; and it is doubtful 
whether he ever fully understands the unique role he himself 
plays. In his "saner" moments, he sees Egypt as the other 
Romans see it, speaks of "Egyptian fetters" (I.ii.120), and 
announces, "I must from this enchanting queen break off" 
(I.ii.132). Later, after the duplicity of Rome has driven him 
back to his enchanting queen and military disaster at Actium, 
he thinks that his earlier misgivings about Egypt have been 
amply confirmed: "my good stars that were my former guides, / 
Have empty left their orbs and shot their fires / Into th' abysm 
of hell" (III.xiii.145-147). The melting mood that follows 
quickly on these words and the "one other gaudy night" after 


that may tend to confirm our view that Antony in his saner 
moments was right. His "terrene moon" has been eclipsed and 
his destiny missed. 

We should be cautious, however, about accepting too readily 
the Roman view of things. Antony does fulfill his destiny, which 
is to produce an image of greatness more striking than even his 
friends think possible. His refusal to take the Roman way 
prompts Enobarbus to contemplate for himself the Judas way 
(III.xiii.195-201 ) ; and the farewell supper that follows in Act IV, 
for all its derivation from Plutarch, continues the familiar 

Tend me tonight; 

May be it is the period of your duty: 
Haply you shall not see me more; or if, 
A mangled shadow. Perchance to-morrow 
You'll serve another master. I look on you 
As one that takes his leave. Mine honest friends, 
I turn you not away; but like a master 
Married to your good service, stay till death. 
Tend me to-night two hours, I ask no more, 
And the gods yield you for't! 


The suggestiveness of Antony's premonition here is intensified 
when we observe that the traitor Enobarbus is also at the table, 
cynically protesting sentimentality; yet the suggestiveness in- 
creases even more as Antony changes the tone of his remarks: 

Know, my hearts, 

I hope well of to-morrow, and will lead you 
Where rather I'll expect victorious life 
Than death and honour. 


Meanwhile, if we may believe the soldiers outside, Antony's 
god, Hercules, is forsaking him (IV.iii); and by morning 
Enobarbus has gone too. To compare the defeat and complete 
betrayal that follow to Golgotha might seem to some bias- 


phemous and to others absurd; but Antony in the rage that 
Shakespeare, not Plutarch, gives him does not hesitate to draw a 
comparison with the death of the god he recognizes: 

The shirt of Nessus is upon me. Teach me, 
Alcides, thou mine ancestor, thy rage. 
Let me lodge Lichas on the horns o y th' moon; 
And with those hands, that grasp' d the heaviest 

Subdue my worthiest self. 


In this, if in nothing else that he proposes, he succeeds. He does 
not kill the "witch"; he does not persuade Eros to kill him; he 
does not even manage a decent suicide. But by all worldly 
standards, he does subdue his worthiest self. One might say that 
he confirms his own metaphor, in which he describes for Eros 
the evanescent shape of a cloud and then concludes, "My good 
knave Eros, now thy captain is / Even such a body. Here I am 
Antony; / Yet cannot hold this visible shape" (IV.xiv.12-14). In 
this very disintegration of the Antony who might have achieved 
greatness by Caesar's standards, however, he completes the 
pattern whereby the birth of a superior greatness is made pos- 
sible. The death of Antony is literally the death of the "Arabian 
bird" a fiery and a "shameful" death, followed by a quite 
unexpected kind of resurrection. 

The grave of the old Antony and the womb of the new is 
Shakespeare's Cleopatra, the torment of several generations of 
critics. One critic would have us believe that she changes 
radically with the death of Antony; another would have it that 
she remains the same Cleopatra from beginning to end. Both, 
of course, are right; for Shakespeare's "reformations" are seldom 
the simple substitution of a better personality for a bad one, 
but the miraculous maturation of what once seemed and was 
defective into something incredibly rich and good. They are 
redemptions such as only a Christian poet can understand. 
Cleopatra remains Cleopatra; her "faults" after Antony's death 


mature into virtues and become a claim to nobility. The cause 
of this transformation in Cleopatra is not merely the death of 
Antony but the vision which his death occasions and to which 
she gives expression two scenes later. This vision encompasses 
and goes beyond all the other intimations of a better Antony 
that we have seen in the play, including Antony's hopes for 
himself; it is something born of Cleopatra, a magnificent kind 
of birth, we are led to believe, of which no one else in the play is 
capable. Dolabella is right to doubt that there ever was or might 
be such a man; for such a mere man there never could be, and 
the vision itself is unique. 

The generation of this vision is the love death in Act IV, 
Scene xv. Cleopatra's role is the active one here; Antony's, the 
passive. Antony speaks seven times in this scene: twice, his 
first and last speeches, to protest that Caesar has not killed him 
and to beg that only his triumphs be remembered; once to plead 
for haste in the hoisting; twice to advise Cleopatra about Caesar 
and those around him; and twice to utter the memorable lines, 
"I am dying, Egypt, dying." To him this death is the bitterest 
kind of death, providing only a fleeting opportunity to make his 
final wishes known. To Cleopatra it is undoubtedly this, too; 
but her words transcend the occasion and in one of the most 
marvellously sustained metaphors in Shakespeare reveal what is 
happening within her. For how many nights they themselves 
perhaps do not know, Cleopatra and Antony have sported 
together in the dark of the palace. Now Cleopatra, seeing 
Antony being borne to the monument, bids the sun be dark 
again: "O sun, / Burn the great sphere thou mov'st in! Darkling 
stand /The varying shore of th' world" (IV.xv.9-11). This 
mock night, suggesting the end of one world as prelude to 
another, becomes for her the one night of all the nights to be 
fruitful; and Antony's "I am dying, Egypt" in her mind turns 
with one of the commonest puns in Elizabethan literature into 
a lover's plea for haste as well as a dying soldier's request for 
pity. Her words continue the metaphor and draw his words 
into it: 


But come, come, Antony, 
Help me, my women, we must draw thee up. 
Assist, good friends. 

Ant. O, quick, or I am gone. 

Cleo. Here's sport indeed! How heavy 

weighs my lord! 

Our strength is all gone into heaviness, 
That makes the weight. Had I great Juno's 


The strong-wing' d Mercury should fetch thee up 
And set thee by Jove's side. Yet come a little, 
Wishers were ever f ools, O, come, come, come; 
[They heave Antony aloft to Cleopatra.] 
And welcome, welcome! Die when thou hast 


Quicken with kissing. Had my lips that power, 
Thus would I wear them out. 

(IV.xv.29-40) 8 

Within the next twenty lines Antony manages to interrupt four 
times and finally succeeds in delivering his brief valedictory as 
Cleopatra's impatience dissolves into frustration: "Noblest of 
men, woo't die? / Hast thou no care of me? Shall I abide / In 
this dull world, which in thy absence is / No better than a sty?" 
And then her words continue, their sexual implications stronger 
than ever: 

The crown o' th' earth doth melt. My lord! 
O, wither' d is the garland of the war, 
The soldier's pole is fall'n! Young boys and girls 
Are level now with men; the odds is gone, 
And there is nothing left remarkable 
Beneath the visiting moon. 


The metaphor here marks the end of their last "gaudy night/' 
It is powerful enough for all who will to see it, yet it is something 
best left unnoticed by those who find it distasteful or by those 


who may be inclined to snicker. The honesty and power of 
Antony and Cleopatra are not for readers like these. As for 
Cleopatra, the habitual folly of her life has just been transformed 
through her own creative poetry into the symbol for a glorious 
expenditure; in losing everything she has suddenly achieved the 
glory of meekness that leaves her at once pure woman and the 
richest of women. Iras, who thinks (in one sense rightly) that 
she is dead with Antony, addresses her as "Royal Egypt, Em- 
press!" And Cleopatra replies: 

No more but e'en a woman, and commanded 
By such pure passion as the maid that milks 
And does the meanest chares. It were for me 
To throw my sceptre at the injurious gods, 
To tell them that this world did equal theirs 
Till they had stol'n our jewel. 


In Act V Shakespeare rapidly completes his portrait of Cleo- 
patra; he takes nothing back that he has already put there, but 
in his finished design he converts her blemishes into beauties. 
Her first words are significant: "My desolation does begin to 
make / A better life" (V.ii.1-2). And her first resolution shows 
the old childish willfulness transformed into a determination of 
cosmic proportions: 

'Tis paltry to be Caesar; 
Not being Fortune, he's but Fortune's knave, 
A minister of her will: and it is great 
To do that thing that ends all other deeds; 
Which shackles accidents and bolts up change; 
Which sleeps, and never palates more the dung, 
The beggar's nurse and Caesar's. 


Her reply to Proculeius, Caesar's messenger, shows no wavering, 
as some have said it does, but a double-edged piece of irony, 
mocking both Caesar and her old habitual vacillation: 


Pray you, tell him 

I am his fortune's vassal, and I send him 
The greatness he has got. I hourly learn 
A doctrine of obedience, and would gladly 
Look him i' th 7 face. 


Her old capacity for rage is undiminished, too, as Proculeius 
learns when his guards seize her from behind (V.ii.49-62). 
But most important of all, her penchant for idle daydreaming 
(see especially I.v. 18-26) has matured into a genuinely creative 
imagination, which first manifested itself when her words turned 
death into a victory and which now, as Dolabella enters, brings 
to full life the new Emperor Antony: "I dream'd there was an 
Emperor Antony, / O, such another sleep, that I might see / But 
such another man?" (V.ii.76ff). Dolabella's honesty and his 
frank admission that at Rome she will be led in triumph condi- 
tion her encounter with Caesar. Being Cleopatra still, she fol- 
lows her natural way, which is to outfox the fox, and turns the 
failure of a simple ruse (her attempt to withhold her treasure) 
into the means whereby she convinces her opponent that he is 
still dealing with a child. Caesar never sees, or even suspects, 
the existence of the Cleopatra who can say, "I am again for 
Cydnus / To meet Mark Antony" (V.ii.228-229); "I have noth- 
ing / Of woman in me; now from head to foot / I am marble 
constant; now the fleeting moon / No planet is of mine" (238- 
241 ) ; and finally, "Husband, I come. / Now to that name my 
courage prove my title! / I am fire and air; my other elements / I 
give to baser life" (290-292). Caesar would surely have found 
incomprehensible her resumption of the metaphor by which she 
came to know her ability to be all these things: "The stroke of 
death is as a lover's pinch, / Which hurts, and is desir'd" (298- 
299) ... "If she [i.e., Iras] first meet the curled Antony, / He'll 
make demand of her, and spend that kiss / Which is my 
heaven to have" (304-306) . . . "Dost thou not see my baby at 
my breast, / That sucks the nurse asleep?" (312-313) . . . "As 
sweet as balm, as soft as air, as gentle, / O Antony!" (314-315) . 


And when Caesar comes upon her dead, the most he can do is 
to play the coroner and inquire the cause of death, comment 
upon her "catching" ways ("she looks like sleep. / As she would 
catch another Antony / In her strong toil of grace" ) , and take 
all the glory for himself. 

We should not be too hard upon this Caesar of Shakespeare's, 
for his function in the play is to stand as the sane representative 
of our own commonsense judgment of these events. Who of us, 
looking upon Antony from Caesar's seat, would not have found 
him one "to be chid / As we rate boys who, being mature in 
knowledge, / Pawn their experience to their present pleasure, / 
And so rebel to judgement" (I.iv.30-33)? Who, being Caesar, 
would not have sought to excuse his part in Antony's death as a 
regrettable necessity? 

O Antony! 

I have followed thee to this; but we do lance 
Diseases in our bodies. I must perforce 
Have shown to thee such a declining day, 
Or look on thine; we could not stall together 
In the whole world. 


Who, moreover, in all honesty, would not have been tempted 
to deal with the irresponsible Antony as Caesar dealt with him? 
Or would not have planned, for the good of the Empire, to make 
full practical use of the misfortunes of an alien queen? The 
bare facts of the play amply justify Caesar's attitude and his 
actions, provided of course that we apply to those facts Caesar's 
values, which are the values of the world of government, of 
business, and of affairs generally, wherever advantage is impor- 
tant and worldly success is the end in view. The actions of 
Antony and Cleopatra, however, have a motive which Caesar's 
values cannot measure which, in fact, his values keep him from 

Antony and Cleopatra insist upon their right to exist as 
uniquely valuable creatures in a creation that asks only to be 


known and loved in its infinite variety; Caesar by contrast is 
capable of seeing creation only as something imperfect, recalci- 
trant, and disorderly. One might call his view puritanical, be- 
cause it suggests strongly the view held by many Elizabethan 
advocates of reformed religion, who not only sought to correct 
their own disorderly natures but also felt obligated to bring all 
nature into line and make it serviceable. In such a view as theirs 
and Caesar'sCleopatra is an excellent example of that incor- 
rigible part of creation which must either be exposed as 
dangerous or destroyed altogether. Clearly Caesar has no in- 
tention of trying to reform Cleopatra; he will simply exhibit her 
in all her disorderliness in one of his orderly triumphs at Rome. 
But he does seem disposed, at least in the beginning, to give 
Antony a chance to reform provided he will consent to serve 
as a dignified representative of Roman authority in the domain 
assigned to him. This is where the attitudes of the two men 
come into open conflict. In order to be acceptable to Caesar, 
Antony must cease to be true to himself. When he tries to give 
the loyalty that Caesar requires, he finds that Caesar goes right 
on condemning everything that has made Antony a generous 
giver of loyalty in the first place. Ostensibly his rebellion against 
Caesar is provoked by a discovery that Caesar cannot be trusted 
(Ill.iv.), but it goes much deeper than that, as his remarks to 
Octavia make clear: "If I lose mine honour, / I lose myself; 
better I were not yours / Than yours so branchless" (22-24). 
He now knows the truth of the soothsayer's warning "near 
him [Caesar], thy angel / Becomes a fear, as being o'erpower'd" 
(II.iii.21-22). Thus he races back to Egypt, where in the em- 
braces of the frivolous queen he sees at least some hope of 
preserving his integrity. 

Shakespeare does not attempt here to gloss over Antony's 
extravagances or the disaster that follows; but as he presents 
Antony's response to his succession of defeats and disappoint- 
ments, he brings us gradually to the perception that, for Antony, 
being Antony, fully and without shame, is the only thing that 
really matters. Little by little he brings into focus that Antony 


of godlike aspect who can stand figuratively upon the hill of 
Bashan and wear the shirt of Nessus that destroyed his ancestor 
Hercules. Moreover, he makes this aspect of Antony godlike 
in a way that should be familiar to Christian readers; for funda- 
mental as it is to Antony to preserve his integrity, it is equally 
fundamental to his nature to give himself whole and complete 
to anyone who will receive. At first, all the recipients are 
unworthy: Caesar disdains the whole gift of Antony, and 
Cleopatra gobbles it up as if it were a trifle. Thus Antony, being 
human for all his godlike selflessness, receives their rejections 
with all the savagery of which frustrated mankind is capable. 
Two glories should redeem him in our eyes. The first is that 
even at the end he prefers to destroy himself rather than 

I made these wars for Egypt; and the Queen, 
Whose heart I thought I had, for she had mine, 
Which whilst it was mine had annex'd unto 't 
A million moe, now lost, she, Eros, has 
Pack'd cards with Caesar, and false-play'd my 


Unto an enemy's triumph. 
Nay, weep not, gentle Eros; there is left us 
Ourselves to end ourselves. 


The second and greatest glory is that, in the end, recollection 
of the Antony who could not compromise effects a meta- 
morphosis in the childish Cleopatra. 

Antony's example does nothing for Caesar, who can see only 
the Antony that would not be remade in the image of Caesar. 
By his standards Antony fails miserably. But Enobarbus comes 
to know better when he sees that Antony's generosity and love 
will pursue him even in desertion; and Cleopatra comes to know 
better when Antony's fumbling suicide makes her realize the 
hollowness of her pretenses and the selflessness of a devotion that 
would follow her even where "souls do couch on flowers" 


(IV.xiv.51). By the manner of his dying Antony shocks Cleo- 
patra into recognizing what integrity she herself is capable of, 
and in her recollection of the troubled career of her lover she 
discovers the pattern whereby she too may achieve greatness. 

The essential character of that pattern makes complete sense 
only when viewed from the Christian perspective that Antony's 
allusion to the Messianic psalms explicitly invites. The Christian 
perspective in no way enables us to justify Antony's excesses as 
excesses, and it does not keep the story of the two lovers from 
being one of pagans who dared "rush into the secret house of 
death / Ere death dare come" (IV.xv.81-82). It does enable us, 
however, to see the main thing about them: that here were two 
people whose selfless expenditure of themselves enabled them 
to achieve an image of humanity greater than themselves and 
greater than the Caesar who, in a worldly sense, triumphed 
over them. That image embodies the distinctively Christian 
ideal of humanity as a collection of uniquely valuable individual 
human beings wholly committed to the expenditure of them- 
selves in love and, if need be, sacrifice for one another. Some 
Christians, of course, may argue that Antony and Cleopatra 
never really see the parallel between their human action and 
that perfect action of self-sacrifice which might have saved them, 
but to argue in this fashion is simply to argue that Shakespeare's 
play is not a Christian morality. The human expenditure does 
not save Antony and Cleopatra any more than commonsense 
and morality save Caesar, but the understanding they achieve 
by it is more than enough to make their play a tragedy. The 
great irony is not that Antony and Cleopatra fail to see the full 
significance of the role they play, but that Caesar, who has the 
easily recognizable virtues of order and propriety on his side, 
fails to see any of the real significance of it at all. 


ARTLY BECAUSE of several resemblances to Beaumont and 
Fletcher's Philaster (performed in 1609) and partly because 
of an unusually heavy reliance upon "romantic*' material, Shake- 
speare's Cymbeline is often compared with popular Jacobean 
tragicomedy. One must concede that the play does have certain 
points in common with this genre. For one thing, it has an 
unusually complicated plot for a Shakespeare play; for another, 
it has a set of characters whose behavior as the play moves 
along is not always predictable with reference to given motiva- 
tion. Both plot and characters have something of the untrans- 
formed cliche about them; and this quality is nowhere more 
evident than in the evil characters, Queen, Cloten, and to some 
extent lachimo, all of whom could have been taken from half 
a dozen popular tragicomedies that appeared during this period. 
Other things about Cymbeline are very different from Jacobean 
tragicomedy. Cymbeline abounds in examples of knotty syntax; 
and one point in which tragicomedy most generally pleased was 
the absence of inverted sentences and teasingly abnormal phras- 
ing. Absent from Cymbeline, however, are the lively touches of 
passion with which Beaumont and Fletcher intrigued their 
audiences. Shakespeare's play has no setpieces, no histrionic 


arias; there are roles aplenty, but few "great" scenes. The most 
striking difference of all, however, is in the denouement. The 
author of a tragicomedy frequently introduced in Act V a 
"forgotten fact," so that instead of moving on toward a happy 
conclusion, the play suddenly veered toward tragedy. Total 
disaster was always averted, of course, thanks usually to a dens 
ex machina; but someone usually got hurt in the process, and 
the play had to end with a mixture of rejoicing and pathos. 
The denouement of Cymbeline is not capricious in this way. 
There are no forgotten facts and nothing like a deus ex machina 
to bring it off; and the play ends without the usual admixture of 
pathos. The living are welcomed home; the dead, such as they 
are, are not mourned. These differences, as I have said, are 
superficial ones, but they all point to a difference that is not 
superficial; for Cymbeline, like the two plays that follow it in 
Shakespeare's canon, is more meaningful in terms of a broad inte- 
grated view of God and human affairs than any of the plays that 
Shakespeare had written previously. This aspect of The Tempest 
has already been examined by critics, 1 and we shall examine 
The Winters Tale at some length in the final chapter of this 
book; but Cymbeline presents the essential difference between 
Shakespeare's tragicomedy and other kinds as clearly as either 
of these perhaps more clearly than they do, since it is not 
encumbered with a wealth of allusion and complicated detail. 
Shakespeare went to several sources for his play, principal 
among which were Holinshed (who gave him the business 
about Cymbeline's opposition to Rome), a twenty-year-old 
anonymous play called The Rare Triumphs of Love and Fortune 
(for the banishment of Posthumus and the rustication of 
Imogen) and the Decameron (for the wager plot). Judging by 
the freedom with which he used the materials in these sources, 
he could have made Cymbeline into almost any kind of play he 
wanted to. Obviously he wanted to do several things. First, he 
wanted to make the quarrel with Rome Cymbeline's quarrel (it 
originally belonged to Guiderius); second, he arranged to have 
the sons lost and estranged from their father; third, he changed 


the wager plot into a temptation plot (lachimo suggests the 
wager, not Posthumus); and fourth, he added the evil char- 
actersQueen, Cloten, and lachimo. The result, oddly perhaps, 
is more comparable to Shakespeare's own romantic tragedy 
Romeo and Juliet than to romantic tragicomedy. In Cymbeline 
as in the earlier play the relation between the two lovers has a 
bearing upon the relation of two larger parties, and in both the 
broader opposition is resolved through the lovers. The differ- 
ences, of course, are equally obvious. In Cymbeline the two 
larger parties, Britain and Rome, do not bear the same relation 
to the lovers as the families of Capulet and Montague do to 
Juliet and Romeo; for in Cymbeline both lovers are originally 
from one of the conflicting parties, Britain. Moreover, in Romeo 
and Juliet, where each lover represents a separate faction, the 
lovers resolve the conflict by unwittingly giving themselves in a 
sacrifice which is immediately recognized to be pathetic. In 
Cymbeline the lovers resolve the larger conflict as well as their 
own by participating in the conflict itself, first on one side and 
then on the other; and this participation brings about not loss 
but gain, with the lovers reunited, the lost daughter returned, 
and the lost brothers found. Thus, whereas the conflict in 
Romeo and Juliet unites and purges, it wastes too. In the more 
optimistic Cymbeline nothing is wasted. Even lachimo, whom 
some readers might be glad to let go, is salvaged and redeemed. 
The greatest difference between these two plays, however, 
is the same as the difference between Cymbeline and the plays 
of Beaumont and Fletcher. It is the difference between drama 
that is essentially secular and drama that is essentially Christian. 
One does not have to be Christian to understand Romeo and 
Juliet, for all its Christian furniture; in fact, Christian inter- 
preters are sometimes tempted to intrude serious considerations 
for example, in regard to the suicides that have to be ruled 
out as irrelevant. Yet one does have to accept certain Christian 
presuppositions in order to make sense of Cymbeline, which has 
almost no Christian furniture and few clear-cut allusions to 
Christian scripture, custom, or doctrine. The movement of the 


plot, for example, is nothing if not Christian. We have a ruler, 
Cymbeline, who in a series of temptations is made to lose all 
he has that is worth possessing, his friend, his sons, his daughter 
and virtuous son-in-law, and his ally. In wrongheadedly banish- 
ing his son-in-law, moreover, he exposes him also to temptation 
and thus indirectly exposes his daughter to temptation, so that 
both daughter and son-in-law become objects of public suspicion 
and victims of despair. His fault in causing these virtuous young 
people to fall is probably his most grievous one, yet this is the 
fault that ultimately brings about the restoration and redemption 
of all who are worth saving and the purgation of the evil that 
has been causing trouble. Thus in Shakespeare's story we have 
nothing more or less than a version of the Christian paradox of 
the fortunate fall, which, in the familiar words of St. Paul 
(I Corinthians 1.18), "is to them that perish foolishness; but 
unto us which are saved it is the power of God." One might say, 
as Posthumus says of his dream in Act V: 

'Tis still a dream, or else such stuff as madmen 
Tongue and brain not; either both or nothing; 
Or senseless speaking, or a speaking such 
As sense cannot untie. Be what it is, 
The action of my life is like it, which 
Til keep, if but for sympathy. 


In short, the action of this play, senseless or not, is like the 
mysterious Christian pattern of redemption; and it places 
squarely in the hands of the Almighty the disposition of men's 
affairs and the election of those who are to be redeemed from 
and through the sin in which all participate. lachimo, Post- 
humus, Imogen, and Cymbeline, all come clean in the end 
because they recognize fully who and what they are and accept 
their salvation (if I may use the term as a metaphor here) as 
something operating miraculously from without. 

The focus of the play, quite obviously, is on only two of these 
characters, Posthumus and Imogen, and of these two, primarily 


on Posthumus. We see this partly in what Shakespeare has each 
of them do and partly in the way he has arranged the scenes. 
Acts I and II keep the focus pretty consistently on Posthumus: 
he leaves Britain, goes to Italy, falls in with lachimo, is tempted 
to wager, is deceived, and is disillusioned: 

Is there no way for men to be, but women 
Must be half-workers? We are all bastards; 
And that most venerable man which I 
Did call my father, was I know not where 
When I was stamp'd. Some coiner with his tools 
Made me a counterfeit; yet my mother seem'd 
The Dian of that time. So doth my wife 
The nonpareil of this. O vengeance, vengeance! 


After this we see nothing more of Posthumus for two whole 
acts (III and IV); for these are given over to setting forth a 
similar fate for Imogen, who having learned of Posthumus' 
distrust of her and wish to kill her, condemns her husband, 
abandons both Britain and her sex, sickens, and, after taking the 
"cordial" that Pisanio has given her, apparently dies (IV.ii). 
After this point in her two acts, however, Imogen goes beyond 
Posthumus. Recovering from the effects of the sleeping potion, 
she wakes to find the headless body of Cloten beside her and 
mistakenly thinks it the body of the banished Posthumus; 
thereupon she begins to know her own frailty and to comprehend 
something of the abiding affection she has always had for her 
husband even while she was condemning him most bitterly. 
Imogen's two acts, in short, establish a parallel with Posthumus' 
misfortunes and point toward a happy resolution of them. This 
resolution begins immediately with Act V, when Posthumus on 
receiving the bloody token mistakenly thinks Imogen dead and 
undergoes a genuine repentance. Three scenes later, in prison, 
he begs the Almighty to take his life, worthless as it is, for the 
life presumably lost: 


For Imogen's dear life take mine; and though 
Tis not so dear, yet 'tis a life; you coin'd it. 
'Tween man and man they weigh not every 


Though light, take pieces for the figure's sake; 
You rather mine, being yours; and so, great 


If you will take this audit, take this life, 
And cancel these cold bonds. 


At this point, and not before, Posthumus is ready to receive the 
truth, about himself and about all the others of true blood and 
election in the play. He gets it, of course, from that crucial 
and much criticized Vision of Jupiter, which Shakespeare, if he 
did not write it himself (and there is really no sound reason for 
believing he did not), at least sanctioned and accepted. 

Looking back over the play from the vantage point of Act V 
we see that this matter of blood and true nobility has been a 
leading theme of the play from the beginning. The first gentle- 
man in Act I, Scene i, may be exaggerating when he describes 
Posthumus as 

... a creature such 

As, to seek through the regions of the earth 
For one his like, there would be something 


In him that should compare. I do not think 
So fair an outward and such stuff within 
Endows a man but he. 


But Posthumus has the "election" of Imogen, in which, the 
first gentleman continues, "may be truly read / What kind of 
man he is," and he is acknowledged superior by almost everyone 
else in the play except possibly Cloten, who pretty obviously 
stands to him as a puttock to an eagle and hence is hardly 
capable of judging. Even lachimo, who makes pretensions to 


nobility of blood, recognizes the nobility of Posthumus when 
Posthumus is still disguised as a simple countryman. ''If that 
thy gentry, Britain/' he says, "go before / This lout as he exceeds 
our lords, the odds / Is that we scarce are men and you are gods" 

But this play does not stop with the assertion that Posthumus' 
natural nobility is recognizable; it asserts that all men of natural 
nobility are recognizable in some way. Shakespeare's device for 
getting this across is his representation of Belarius and the two 
princes. Belarius, alias Morgan, after much discussion of the 
superiority of rude Nature to a corrupt court, tells us out of the 
princes' hearing in Act III: 

How hard it is to hide the sparks of nature! 
These boys know little they are sons to th' King, 
Nor Cymbeline dreams that they are alive. 
They think they're mine; and, though train' d 

up thus meanly 
F th' cave wherein they bow, their thoughts 

do hit 

The roofs of palaces, and nature prompts them 
In simple and low things to prince it much 
Beyond the trick of others. 


In Act IV the young princes show such a princely impatience 
to be about the business of war that Belarius is compelled to 
say: "their blood thinks scorn / Till it fly out and show them 
princes born" (IV.iv.53-54). And in Act V the British soldiers, 
who think the trio indeed peasants, confirm Belarius' somewhat 
prejudiced view: "'Tis thought," say they, "the old man and his 
sons were angels" (V.iii.85). 

The play also recognizes that rank, even when not accom- 
panied by natural nobility, deserves respect. The example of 
that in this play is Cloten, who is demonstrably ignoble in 
behavior yet whose headless trunk at Belarius' insistence gets 
proper burial: 


Though mean and mighty, rotting 
Together, have one dust, yet reverence, 
That angel of the world, doth make distinction 
Of place 'tween high and low. Our foe was 


And though you took his life, as being our foe, 
Yet bury him as a prince. 


We are expected to take Belarius' way as the way of safety, I 
suppose; but we sympathize with Guiderius, who preferred not 
to say anything at all the funeral. As the princes' song in Act IV 
("Fear no more the heat o' th' sun") reminds us, at the center 
of Shakespeare's Cymbeline is the good Christian axiom that 
dust is dust. Even true nobility must recognize that; and where 
such recognition falters, dust blinds the eyes. Cloten and his 
mother, of course, have the blindness of death about them 
from the beginning; they are completely ignoble, and no amount 
of rank can save them. Dust also temporarily blinds those of 
genuine nobility in the play, Cymbeline first and then Posthumus 
and Imogen; but these, being of the elect, have the grace to see 
their errors and repent. lachimo, however, is the best example 
of this; for, though a very bad man indeed, he has in him enough 
of true nobility to recognize his misdoing and try to make 
amends. His wickedness is of a wholly different order from that 
of Cloten and the Queen, and Posthumus sees that fact clearly. 
"Kneel not to me," he says modestly; "The power that I have 
on you is to spare you, / The malice towards you to forgive you. 
Live, / And deal with others better" (V.v.41 7-420). To this the 
King echoes appropriately, "Nobly doom'd! / We'll learn our 
freeness of a son-in-law; / Pardon's the word to all." 

Posthumus and Imogen seem to be pretty well matched in 
the order and degree of nobility within them. He is, in her 
phrase, "a holy witch / That . . . enchants societies unto him" 
(, and she, in his description, "more fair, virtuous, 
wise, chaste, constant, qualified, and less attemptable than any 
the rarest of ... ladies in France" (I.iv.64-66). Moreover, as 


each by virtue of virtue in himself recognizes virtue in the other, 
so each recognizes the blindness of his own error. Imogen says, 
"Our very eyes / Are sometimes like our judgements, blind" (IV. 
ii. 30 1-302); and Posthumus, after he has regained his senses, 
"there are none want eyes to direct them the way I am going, 
but such as wink and will not use them" (V.iv.192-194). Both 
have winked and both have ceased to wink; yet in the end it is 
Posthumus who receives the full epiphany. He receives it, as 
has already been said, in the famous masquelike scene called 
the Vision of Jupiter, which constitutes a revelation given 
directly by God under the aspect of Jupiter in justification of his 
ways. It should be stressed that there is no question of a pagan 
Jupiter here. Jupiter is the One God, called Jupiter in this play 
simply because the setting happens to be pre-Christian Britain. 
Furthermore, he is no deus ex machina: he does not intervene, 
he changes nothing, he adds nothing, he cuts no knots. He 
merely reveals what might have been inferred anyhow that 
his Providence has been controlling things from the beginning. 
The significant thing that he does is to emphasize and give 
divine sanction to the paradox contained in Lucius' enlightened 
remark to the grieving Imogen, "Some falls are means the 
happier to arise" (IV.ii.403). 

A bare statement of this is about all that Imogen gets before 
the final accounting at the end of Act V that and the 
observation, also from Lucius, that the name Fidele "well fits" 
her faith (IV.ii.381). For Imogen is distinguished primarily 
by her faith; she is like those saints mentioned in Hebrews 
xi. 38-39 "of whom the world was not worthy": "they wandered 
in deserts and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. 
And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, 
received not the promise." The "promise" is for Posthumus; 
and it comes to him properly, in the form of the Vision, upon 
his profession of complete surrender, "Take this life, / And 
cancel these cold bonds" (V.iv.27-28). The Vision falls into 
two parts. The first is the appeal of Posthumus' family (all 
ghosts, of course); and the second, Jupiter's reply. Of the 


details of the appeal the following should be noted here. First, 
Sicilius Leonatus, father to Posthumus, raises the question of 
"undeserved" human suffering--"Hath my poor boy done aught 
but well?" He also observes that the "mould" or form of 
Posthumus (note where the virtue lies) has been pronounced 
good by the world. The First Brother notes that Posthumus 
alone of all the Britons has found favor with Imogen. Post- 
humus' mother wants to know why, once her son was elevated 
in such a marriage, he deserved to be "mocked" with exile. And 
Sicilius comes in again to demand why, further, he should 
be tempted by the wicked lachimo with "needless" jealousy. 
Finally, all point out Posthumus' positive claims, lately proved 
in valorous deeds, to Jupiter's favor. The effect of all this is to 
raise the more general question of Jupiter's goodness and justice; 
but it should be noted that these questionings merely pick up, 
emphasize, and summarize the main threads of movement as 
they have been developing in the play from the beginning. 
Cymbeline as a whole has all along been inching toward the 
overwhelming question, "Is God good?" And now that Jupiter 
speaks in reply, he does so in terms that are as simple and as 
conventionally Christian as the prototype for them in Hebrews: 

And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as 
unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, 
nor faint when thou are rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth 
he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye 
endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son 
is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastise- 
ment, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. 

(Hebrews xn.5-8) 

The tenor of Jupiter's remarks to the suppliant ghosts is that 
his Providence accounts for everything, that he has chosen 
whom he will love, and that he will punish whom he has chosen: 

Whom best I love I cross; to make my gift, 
The more delay'd, delighted. Be content; 


Your low-laid son our godhead will uplift. 

His comforts thrive, his trials well are spent. 
Our jovial star reign'd at his birth, and in 

Our temple was he married. Rise, and fade. 
He shall be lord of Lady Imogen. 

And happier much by his affliction made. 


After this there can be no fear of bastardy for Posthumus, such 
as he once entertained (II.v.2), nor doubt of his election. The 
dream has been his revelation: 

Sleep, thou hast been a grandsire and begot 
A father to me, and thou hast created 
A mother and two brothers; but, O scorn! 
Gonel they went hence so soon as they were born. 
And so I am awake. Poor wretches that depend 
On greatness' favour dream as I have done, 
Wake and find nothing. But, alas, I swerve. 
Many dream not to find, neither deserve, 
And yet are steep'd in favours; so am I, 
That have this golden chance and know not why. 
What fairies haunt this ground? 


The riddling prophecy which comes to him now (138-145), 
with its fresh mixture of Biblical echoes the stately cedar 
suggesting the great tree of Ezekiel xxxi.3 and the metaphor of 
grafting from Romans xi. 15-25 is the promise by which not 
only Posthumus, but all those of virtue may be saved. The 
good fortunes of Posthumus, Imogen, Cymbeline, and the two 
sons are all implicit in it; Posthumus, who possesses the promise 
but does not understand it, is nevertheless made happy by it. 
"The action of my life is like it, which / Til keep, if but for 
sympathy," he says to himself (V.iv. 150-1 51); then to the be- 
wildered Gaoler, "I am merrier to die than thou art to live" 
The long concluding scene of Act V is a series of discoveries 


and regenerative experiences for the characters who are entitled 
to them. Cymbeline's regenerative experience comes first, as 
he acknowledges Posthumus' virtue without really knowing who 
Posthumus is, grants dignities to the brothers and old Belarius 
without knowing who they are, and admits his own folly in 
submitting to the influence of the wicked Queen. Next he 
recognizes the virtue in young Fidele, without seeing of course 
that Fidele is really Imogen; and the result of this additional 
recognition of virtue in disguise is the repentance of lachimo, 
which brings about the rediscovery of Posthumus, which in 
turn reunites the two lovers. An interesting development occurs 
shortly before the lovers are reunited when Posthumus, overcome 
with the realization that there was no justice at all in his order 
to have Imogen killed, strikes down the disguised Imogen as 
she protests his excessive grief, Cymbeline's startled exclama- 
tions here, as Pisanio reveals that it is Imogen and not some 
obscure servant who has been struck, help us see what is hap- 
pening: "Does the world go round?" and "the gods do mean to 
strike me / To death with mortal joy/' The Christian paradox 
which gives the whole play its meaning, "Whom the Lord 
loveth, he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he re- 
ceiveth," here gets perfect and clear realization at the historical 
level of the play. Posthumus in his last moment of blindness, 
inadvertently and not wantonly, does what God in the fullness 
of knowledge and perfect wisdom continually does: he chastens 
the one whom he loves. As a human being he errs, and as 
human being he is mercifully forgiven; the result, however, is 
wholly good. Imogen, come again to life, embraces him as the 
soul the body or fruit the tree, and Cymbeline pronounces 
benediction upon them both: "My tears that fall / Prove holy 
water on thee" (V.v.268-269). 

In the remaining portion of this scene other necessary business 
takes place: Belarius and the brothers are properly identified, the 
family is made whole again, and lachiino, unwitting agent of 
a good deal of the divine chastening, is forgiven. The most 
interesting business, however, has to do with the yet unexplained 


prophecies. The first of these, we recall, is the one given to 
Posthumus; and this, with the possible exception of that detail 
about "tender air," virtually explains itself. Lucius' soothsayer 
makes the obvious explanation official. The other is that 
prophecy, first mentioned in Act IV, Scene ii, just before Lucius 
discovers Imogen-Fidele prostrate on Cloten's headless body. As 
delivered and explained by the Soothsayer at that point in the 
play, it goes as follows: 

Last night the very gods show'd me a vision 
I fast and pray'd for their intelligencethus: 
I saw Jove's bird, the Roman eagle, wing'd 
From the spongy south to this part of the west, 
There vanished in the sunbeams; which portends 
Unless my sins abuse my divination 
Success to the Roman host. 


The point should be made, however, that the Soothsayer's 
explanation is not quite accurate. It is the British host, not the 
Roman, thanks largely to Posthumus, Belarius, Guiderius, and 
Arviragus, that has succeeded on the battlefield; and because 
the battle has been won by these four principally with the aid 
of Posthumus the victory for Britain can be a victory for Rome 
too. Lucius can thank Posthumus for a regenerated Cymbeline, 
for whom victory involves something that would be utter 
madness in any context except a Christian one paying tribute 
to the vanquished and forgoing all special prerogatives due to 
an earthly victor. Thus the Soothsayer can say, without referring 
to his previous error, that the dream "foreshow'd our princely 
eagle, / Th' imperial Caesar, should again unite / His favour 
with the radiant Cymbeline, / Which shines here in the west." 
In our own day it is fashionable to say that no one ever really 
wins a war; here no one loses. The conflict ends with victory 
and happiness for both sides, praise to the gods, and ratification 
of the peace in the temple of Jupiter. 
Tragicomedy also usually ends with peace and kisses all round; 


but Cymbeline, though related to tragicomedy by both materials 
and convention and therefore clearly a member of that family, 
has, as we have seen, a very different spiritual lineage. Because 
it participates in a Christian point of view, Cymbeline is related 
also to the Corpus Christi plays, to the English moralities, and 
to the Shakespearean tragedies; but it differs from these spiritual 
predecessors much as Pauline Christianity ("unto the Jews a 
stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness" ) differs from 
some of the other early formulations of the faith. Having 
accommodated itself to the morality and the more classical 
modes of drama, Christianity here adapts itself to a mode so 
fantastic that to many minds the new mode can only be an 
impediment to understanding. There is still current a Hebraic 
kind of puritanism that demands drama like the morality, and 
a Hellenic kind that demands something of which Aristotle 
conceivably might have approved; moralists and philosophers 
alike decline to take seriously the pleasant capriciousness of 
tragicomedy, which many sophisticated Jacobeans applauded. 
What Shakespeare has done, however, is to discover in the very 
capriciousness of this ephemeral art form a symbol of something 
that neither the morality nor the classical modes of drama had 
adequately accounted forthe mystery of a gracious Providence 
and its inscrutable workings among mankind. Shakespeare's 
Cymbeline moves in the same spirit as Paul's words to the 

And we know that all things work together for good to them that 
love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For 
whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to 
the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many 
brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: 
and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, 
them he also glorified. 

(Romans vni.28-30) 

Here is the context for Posthumus, for Imogen, for Cymbeline, 
Belarius, Arviragus, Guiderius, and wily lachimo. It is not the 


context for the characters of Philaster, A King and No King, and 
The Maid's Tragedy. T. S. Eliot once compared the tragi- 
comedies of Beaumont and Fletcher to flowers stuck in sand. 2 
Shakespeare's tragicomedies, if we should really call them that, 
are plants of the same species, but they have roots in damp, rich, 
ancient soil; and they are legitimately gaudy. 


'N The Winter's Tale Shakespeare continued his transforma- 
tion of tragicomedy. We sometimes hear it said that this play, 
like Cymbeline, is simply a kind of tragicomedy, more or less 
after the manner of Beaumont and Fletcher and very likely 
designed for performance at Blackfriars. It is certainly true 
that many things about The Winter's Tale remind us of those 
tragicomedies which were becoming popular with Jacobean 
audiences, and it is reasonable to suppose that the Jacobeans 
themselves, in retrospect at least, thought of Shakespeare's play 
as another specimen of that form. Nevertheless, Shakespeare's 
startling restoration of Hermione in the last scene, together with 
his relegation of the reunion of Perdita and Leontes to a narra- 
tion by three gentlemen, marks a shift of emphasis in the 
development of his plot that probably disturbed some members 
of the original Jacobean audience almost as much as it has 
worried modern scholars. We normally expect to find a large 
element of surprise in the denouement of a tragicomic plot; 
and we are prepared to receive surprises that will make us doubt, 
right up to the very end, whether the play can possibly end 
happily. What we do not expect is that the plot will move, 
as that of The Winter's Tale does, toward what promises to 


be a perfectly satisfactory denouement, bypass that lightly, and 
then proceed to a completely gratuitous miracle so arresting 
that it overshadows everything that has gone before. 

A look at Shakespeare's source for the play, Robert Greene's 
popular Pandosto, suggests no explanation at all for this seeming 
caprice in plotting. In Greene's novel the character who cor- 
responds to Shakespeare's Hermione actually dies, and the nar- 
rative moves on without impediment to a climactic meeting 
between father and daughter. Greene, of course, represented 
this meeting as something considerably less than happy, having 
the aging but lustful king, ignorant of the girl's identity, first 
woo his daughter with unbecoming ardor and then kill himself 
out of remorse. Shakespeare's efforts toward removing such 
unpleasant features as these from his own version of the story 
are understandable, and we can be grateful to him for making 
them. For that matter, we can be grateful to him for deciding 
to spare the lovely thing he himself made of Hermione; but our 
gratitude need not blind us to the fact that nothing in the plot 
required him to spare her. And nothing in Greene's narrative 
provides any real answer to the tantalizing question: Why did 
Shakespeare go out of his way to let Hermione return after being 
presumed dead for sixteen years? 

The only halfway satisfactory answer that has been advanced 
so far is that Shakespeare somehow meant his play to be taken 
as a parable of sin and redemption with Hermione serving as a 
sort of vague symbol for divine grace. There is much in the play 
to support this thesis for example, Hermione's identification of 
her acceptance of Leontes' suit with grace in Act I, Scene ii: 

My last good deed was to entreat his 

[Polixenes'] stay; 

What was my first? It has an elder sister, 
Or I mistake you. O, would her name were Grace! 
But once before I spoke to th' purpose; when? 
Nay, let me have't; I long. 
Leon. Why, that was when 


Three crabbed months had sour'd themselves to 


Ere I could make thee open thy white hand 
And clap thyself my love, then didst thou utter, 
"I am yours for ever." 
Her. Tis grace indeed. 


Admittedly, Hermione is being playful here, but there is at 
least as much justice as playfulness in her remark. For if it was 
as grace that she came to Leontes in his innocent youth and so 
remained with him until he, blinded by his own willful error, 
cast her off, it was certainly as divine grace that she returned 
at last to take him up again when his hope of justification had 
completely melted away. At any rate, Leontes himself is pre- 
pared to call her that when in the last act he looks at what he 
thinks is a statue: 

Chide me, dear stone, that I may say indeed 
Thou art Hermione; or rather, thou art she 
In thy not chiding, for she was as tender 
As infancy and grace. 


Grace, then, is the theme of the play, according to this thesis; 
and Shakespeare's last scene is necessary to complete the explora- 
tion of that theme. Thus we have an interpretation that even 
the most conservative of us can accept. We may suppose either 
that Shakespeare began with his theme and shaped Greene's 
tragicomic fable to fit it, or perhaps that he simply set out to 
dramatize Greene's fable and somewhere along the way found 
that he had drawing unconsciously upon a doctrinal pattern so 
inextricably woven into the contemporary fabric of belief that 
even the barest hint of it in the material he was working on 
could make it operative. In any case, we can be confident that 
only a very devious dialectician would ever attempt to disprove 
the connection between Hermione and that Christian grace 


which comes not so much as the result of man's deserving it as 
of man's contrition and willingness to receive. 

The unfortunate thing about this conservative approach to 
The Winters Tale is not that it heads in the wrong direction 
(the direction seems to be right), but that it betrays a timidity 
unworthy of its object, to say nothing of a willingness to stop 
short just as the exploration begins to get really interesting and 
profitable. There is something far more interesting in this play 
than a correspondence between Hermione and divine grace, and 
that something is her correspondence to the incarnation of 
divine grace, Jesus Christ. This does not mean that Hermione 
stands for Christ or serves as an allegory for Christ in the sense 
that a pelican in an emblem may, but rather that she has the 
status of a lesser incarnation. That is, the manifestation of 
grace in her is so discernible as an imperfect realization of that 
quality which is perfectly manifested in the Son of God that 
we are led to see in her simple acts of forgiveness the pale but 
unmistakable reflection of His mercy and redeeming love. We 
see this, moreover, not merely because true forgiveness is always 
Christlike, but because the whole world of the play in which 
Hermione appears is involved with her in this lesser incarnation: 
all the principal characters and events with which she is 
associated share her recognizable status and correspond ana- 
logically, though imperfectly, to characters, institutions, and 
events associated historically with the perfect Incarnation. 

When an interpretation of a play is to turn upon an analogy 
of this kind, the best place to begin is at some passage in which 
the analogy tends to become explicit. There are several such 
passages in The Winter's Tale, but the most interesting is 
probably that in Act III, Scene ii, in which Hermione, replying 
to Leontes' invitation to "feel our justice," delivers this speech 
(the italics are, of course, my own) : 

Sir, spare your threats. 

The bug which you -would fright me -with I seek; 
To me can life be no commodity. 


The crown and comfort of my life, your favour, 
I do give lost; for I do feel it gone, 
But know not how it went. My second joy 
And first-fruits of my body, from his presence 
I am barr'd, like one infectious. My third 


Starr' d most unluckily, is from my breast. 
The innocent milk in it most innocent mouth, 
Hal'd out to murder; myself on every post 
Proclaim' d a strumpet; with immodest hatred 
The child-bed privilege denf d, which longs 
To women of all fashion; lastly, hurried 
Here to this place, i iK open air, before 
I have got strength of limit. Now, my liege, 
Tell me what blessings I have here alive, 
That I should fear to die? Therefore proceed. 
But yet hear this: mistake me not; no life, 
I prize it not a straw; but for mine honour, 
Which I would free, if I shall be condemn' d 
Upon surmises, all proofs sleeping else 
But v^hat your jealousies awake, I tell you 
"Tis rigour and not law. Your honours all, 
I do refer me to the oracle: 
Apollo be my judge! 


Reading these lines with special attention to those in italics 
makes it hard to avoid the notion that Shakespeare himself, 
either while working with the passage or on looking back at it 
afterward, saw emerging from it the central analogy of the play. 
Hermione, refusing to fear the death that is offered her as a form 
of justice, proclaimed a strumpet on every post, and hurried 
into a place in the open air before she has her strength all this 
should suggest readily enough, even to a modern reader, the 
familiar career of Jesus from Gethsemane to Golgotha. But 
what of the other details? What of Leontes, the crown and 
comfort of her life; Mamillus, the firstfruits of her body, from 
whom she is barred; and Perdita, her third comfort, innocent 


yet haled out to murder? If these cannot be linked to Hermione 
as part of the central analogy, there is not much point in pur- 
suing our inquiry further. Merely to find a Christlike character, 
however interesting, in a play or story is not to find in it the 
kind of analogy we are dealing with here; for that kind of 
analogy requires that the fable as a whole, or at least the 
essential parts of it, participate with the Christlike character 
in the same general analogy. But Leontes, Mamillus, and 
Perdita, to say nothing of the others, do participate in Her- 
mione's action in this way; and they do so recognizably for us, 
once we have accustomed our eyes to the light which can help 
us see how they do. 

There is some light available to that end in the ninth, tenth, 
and eleventh chapters of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans, which 
deals with the historical realization of that course of redemption 
which parallels the action of this play. If we are willing to grant 
that Hermione the redeemer is like St. Paul's Christ who saves 
by grace (Romans xi.5-6), we shall have little difficulty in seeing 
that the appropriate analogy for Leontes is the Jew, whom St. 
Paul declared it was his heart's desire to see saved (x.l ) . It was 
Leontes, remember, who first paid court to grace and first on 
earth received it; and it was he who learned through the bitter 
process of stumbling, jealous fury, and alienation the meaning 
of that paragon he had previously taken for granted as his legal 
right. This is precisely the course that Paul predicted for the 
disinherited Jew: "And David saith, Let their table be made a 
snare, and a trap, and a stumblingblock, and a recompence unto 
them: Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and 
bow down their back alway. I say then, Have they stumbled 
that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall 
salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to 
jealousy" (xi.9-11). Following this line of interpretation we 
arrive naturally at the following analogies for Mamillus and 
Perdita. Mamillus, who dies, suggests the Jewish church, beloved 
of Christ but ultimately denied to him; for, from the Christian 
point of view, that church died upon the cross. And Perdita, 


who is consistently referred to as the heir in the play, suggests 
the true Church, rejected, "hal'd out to murder" even in infancy, 
yet destined to survive, be grafted on to alien stock, and provide 
the occasion of that general reconciliation which precedes the 
general outpouring of grace at the end. 

It is important to use the word "suggests" here. The kind 
of absolute correspondence, traceable point by point through 
every line of a poem, that is sometimes used as a criterion by 
academic allegory hunters is not a characteristic of this play or, 
for that matter, of any really respectable literary work. A play, 
after all, is a literary symbol, not a mathematical equation; and 
such correspondences as may appear in the finished piece are 
at first discovered rather than wrought by the author as well 
as by the reader. In fact, a reader may discover, quite properly, 
a good many things in a work that the author himself has never 
seen. The correspondences noted here, however, between the 
Pauline outline of the course of redemption and the general 
pattern of The Winters Tale, were surely part of Shakespeare's 
own comprehension of the play. It is even conceivable that his 
recognition began with that rough suggestion of Calvary in 
Hermione's speech in Act III, and that it was his exploration 
of the implications in that climactic speech that led him 
ultimately to see the whole application to see even in the 
initial situation in Act I a neat parallel to the situation of man- 
kind at the time of Christ, when in a world divided into Jew 
and Gentile the promised Messiah, having come to the Jew 
first, made invitation to his brother also. 

Be that as it may, in Act I the parallel comes pretty close 
to being explicit; and with the help of the insight that enables 
us to see Hermione as a type of Christ we grasp it almost as soon 
as the principals make their entrance in Scene ii. Here Polixenes' 
polite refusal of his hostess' entreaty to stay and Hermione's 
reply, playing upon that "verily" with its Biblical associations, 
tap at our recollection until the door is ajar (I.ii.46-56). Then 
Polixenes delivers the following startling description of himself 
and Leontes in their youth: 


We were as twinn'd lambs that did frisk i' th' 


And bleat the one at th' other. What we chang'd 
Was innocence for innocence; we knew not 
The doctrine of ill-doing, no, nor dream'd 
That any did. Had we pursu'd that life, 
And our weak spirits ne'er been higher rear'd 
With stronger blood, we should have answer' d 


Boldly, "Not guilty"; the imposition clear' d 
Hereditary ours. 


Now the way is clear for the flood of recognition to begin. We 
proceed to Polixenes' description of their "fall," Hermione's 
identification of herself with grace, her successful persuasion of 
Polixenes to stay in Bohemia, and finally her pronouncement 
upon her own acceptance of Leontes' suit, "'Tis grace indeed." 
Such hints as these must have enabled at least some members 
of Shakespeare's audience to grasp, at the start, the nature of 
the informing action of the play and to watch the progressive 
realization of that action unperturbed by one detail that fre- 
quently plagues a modern reader or auditor. 

Honesty compels a good many critics who otherwise praise 
The Winter's Tale to admit a tendency to boggle at the sud- 
denness with which Shakespeare has Leontes fly into a jealous 
rage. An early grasp of the action of the play precludes such a 
tendency. From the first appearance of Leontes' jealousy in 
Act I to that point in Act II (i. 36-37) where it settles into the 
undisguised pharisaical pride of "How blest am I / In my just 
censure, in my true opinion," it is understandable by analogy 
with Paul's observation, "salvation is come unto the Gentiles, 
for to provoke them [that is, the Jews] to jealousy" (Romans 
xi.ll). From this point on, Leontes becomes so obsessed with 
the legality of his unwarranted censure that we tend to think 
of it as his own special guilty stain. A perfect example of this 
perverted legality is the address he makes to Hermione in Act II, 


Scene i. His formal, point-by-point indictment of her is so 
patently false that refutation of it is impossible; and Hermione 
can only deny with dignity the charges he makes. Yet by the 
time she bids him farewell with the significant observation, 
"this action I now go on / Is for my better grace" (II.i.121-122), 
her innocence is so manifest that old Antigonus is moved to say, 
"Be certain what you do, sir, lest your justice / Prove violence; 
in the which three great ones suffer, / Yourself, your queen, your 
son" (127-129). The legal business of the trial scene is, of 
course, natural and appropriate and does not call attention to 
itself; but Hermione's remark at the end of her long speech 
there pinpoints the essential conflict of the play: 

... if I shall be condemned 
Upon surmises, all proofs sleeping else 
But what your jealousies awake, I tell you 
Tis rigour and not law. 


The trouble with Leontes is not that he does not love justice 
but that in his rigorous legalism he cannot possibly know what 
justice is. Again St. Paul's text happily provides a perfect gloss: 
"For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not 
according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's 
righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteous- 
ness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of 
God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every 
one that believeth" (Romans x.2-4). This of the zealous Jews. 
But it fits equally well the ignorant zeal of Leontes, and it points 
to the nature of his salvation as well as that of Israel. 

Before Leontes can be saved he must come to know the 
meaning of the oracle, which declares Hermione chaste, Poli- 
xenes blameless, Leontes a jealous tyrant, and the babe truly 
begotten, and concludes, "the King shall live without an heir, 
if that which is lost be not found" (III.ii.133-137). That is, he 
must see his errors for what they are (and this means also 


recognizing Hermione for what she is) and learn to nourish a 
faith that Heaven may mercifully restore what he himself can 
never bring back. Fortunately, Leontes has a St. Paul to help 
him to that point of understanding; for this is precisely the func- 
tion of Shakespeare's Paulina, who has no counterpart in 
Greene's narrative. As early as Act II, before the trial scene, 
it is she who undertakes the task of his conversion: 

If she dares trust me with her little babe, 
Til show't the King and undertake to be 
Her advocate to th' loud'st. We do not know 
How he may soften at the sight o* th' child. 
The silence often of pure innocence 
Persuades when speaking fails. 


After this attempt has failed and Leontes has gone on to make 
himself "scandalous to the world/' Paulina slips quietly into the 
role of comforter, confessor, and guide and does her. work there 
with more success. When we next see them, sixteen years later, 
Leontes is painfully penitent and completely prepared to accept 
Paulina's judgment on Hermione: 

If, one by one, you wedded all the world, 
Or, from the all that are, you took something 


To make a perfect woman, she you kill'd 
Would be unparalleled. 


He is also quite willing to reject the advice of his official 
counselors, who would have him marry and get another heir, 
and take instead that of Paulina, who reminds him: 

There is none worthy, 
Respecting her that's gone. Besides the gods 
Will have fulfill' d their secret purposes; 


For has not the divine Apollo said, 
Is't not the tenour of his oracle, 
That King Leontes shall not have an heir 
Till his lost child be found? 

. . . Care not for issue 
The crown will find an heir. 


He must not marry again, she tells him, till his "first queen's 
again in breath" a remarkable condition in view of the apparent 
circumstances and one which imposes upon him a sturdy 
exercise of faith. Yet faith is always the condition essential to 
salvation. Even as she prepares to bid the statue step down, 
she reminds him, "It is required / You do awake your faith" 
(V.iii.94-95). And then she adds, with an oblique reference to 
the state of mind that brought about his downfall, "those that 
think it is unlawful business / I am about, let them depart." 
This is intended for Leontes, of course, as is her remark a few 
lines later: "Start not; her actions shall be holy as / You hear my 
spell is lawful." But Leontes is no longer a zealot for legality, 
rigorous or otherwise. "If this be magic," he exclaims, "let it 
be an art / Lawful as eating." 

Thus Leontes' twofold reconciliation, first with Perdita and 
then with Hermione, may be viewed as a literal fable with an 
analogical center in regenerated Jewry's expected reconciliation 
to the body of true believers and subsequent reception into 
Heaven at the Second Coming. The objection that the center 
of this play (which includes also Jesus' rejection and crucifixion 
by the Jews) thus belongs in part to the province of eschatology 
need not prevent a Christian's treating it as history. From the 
Christian point of view, the Second Coming is as much a part 
of history as the Creation or the Crucifixion. The outline 
given here of events leading up to it has, as we have seen, the 
authority of St. Paul's admonition to the Jews in Romans. 
Furthermore, there is good evidence in Act IV to show that 


Shakespeare not only saw the analogy but also made direct use 
of Paul's epistle. 

The long period of penance and instruction that follows 
Leontes' rejection of grace suggests only half of what happens 
between Calvary and Judgment. Shakespeare's play gives more 
prominence to the preservation and fostering of the heir, or 
true Church, in Gentile Christendom, all of which is reflected 
in Perdita's preservation in a foreign land and her betrothal to 
a foreign prince. From the beginning there is more to Perdita 
than meets the eye. We note that her part of the action begins 
properly in Act III with Antigonus' account of the dream in 
which the "ghost" of Hermione (who, of course, is very much 
alive) has given "fate" the responsibility for the child's casting 
away, hinted that the child is only "counted" lost forever, 
named the child Perdita, and accurately prophesied Antigonus' 
own death (III.iii.27-36). The shepherd who finds her discovers 
also the gold that Antigonus has left, but gold is scarcely 
enough to account for his growing "from very nothing, and 
beyond the imagination of his neighbours, . . . into an unspeak- 
able estate" (IV.ii.44-46). "If young Dorides / Do light upon 
her," he tells the disguised Polixenes, "she shall bring him that 
which he dreams not of" (IV.iv. 178-1 80). Perdita, in short, is 
herself the "fairy gold" that transforms all who come within her 
range not only the shepherd and Florizel but also Leontes and 
eventually the stubborn Polixenes, who even at the outset is 
moved to admit, "Nothing she does or seems / But smacks of 
something greater than herself, / Too noble for this place" 
(IV.iv. 157-1 59). She is, moreover, the seeker as well as the 
sought. Florizel's wooing of her and his constancy in standing 
by her do him great credit; but Perdita, knowing perfectly well 
who he is and the disparity of their stations, also woos, first with 
flowers and then with words. She would strew him with gar- 
lands, she says for all to hear, "like a bank for to lie and play 
on; / Not like a corse; or if, not to be buried, / But quick and 
in mine arms. Come, take your flowers" (IV.iv. 130-1 32) . When 
Florizel before witnesses declares that without her love he is 


nothing (380-388), she modestly declines to try to match his 
language yet manages a declaration of her own that is as forth- 
right as it is simple: 

I cannot speak 

So well, nothing so well; no, nor mean better. 
By th' pattern of mine own thoughts I cut out 
The purity of his. 


Polixenes' royal tantrum that follows shortly after this tempts 
her to press her initiative even further and declare to the King's 
face the truism of Matthew v.45 ("for he maketh his sun to 
rise on the evil and on the good" ) : 

I was not much afeard; for once or twice 
I was about to speak, and tell him plainly 
The self-same sun that shines upon his court 
Hides not his visage from our cottage, but 
Looks on alike. 


Yet Perdita forbears here because the initiative is no longer 
rightfully hers. She has done all she can. It remains for 
Florizel to prove his love for her by renouncing everything for 
her sake, and this he does promptly and beautifully with, "Lift 
up thy looks. / From my succession wipe me, father; I / Am heir 
to my affection" (IV.iv.489-491). 

Shakespeare's execution is so deft and charming here in Act 
IV that we can perhaps excuse critics for protesting his shift of 
focus away from Perdita to Hermione in Act V, but the shift 
was necessary if Shakespeare was to make of his play something 
more than routine tragicomedy. At least it was necessary if his 
play was to continue to bear scrutiny as a partial realization of 
that divine action which is described explicitly in Paul's pro- 
phetic account of the remnant in his Epistle to the Romans. 
The primary function of Act IV is to fulfill the prophecy and 


make possible the return of Hermione, which, as we have seen, 
suggests the return of the Messiah to a Jewry that had previously 
rejected him. Thus it is not surprising to find Shakespeare 
choosing as his central metaphor for the relationship between 
Perdita and Florizel the same metaphor of grafting that Paul 
used to refer to the union of the Gentile and Christ's representa- 
tive on earth, the Church. Paul was speaking sharply to Gentiles 
here, warning them against writing off the Jew entirely. The 
eleven verses in which he developed his figure need to be 
quoted in full: 

For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, 
what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead? For 
if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be 
holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches be broken 
off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert graffed in among them, 
and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; 
Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not 
the root, but the root thee. Thou wilt say then, The branches were 
broken off, that I might be graffed in. Well; because of unbelief 
they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not high- 
minded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take 
heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and 
severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, 
goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt 
be cut off. And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall 
be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again. For if thou 
wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert 
graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more 
shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own 
olive tree? For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of 
this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that 
blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the 
Gentiles be come in. 

( Romans xi.l 5-25) 

It takes very little imagination to see the action of Shake- 
speare's play paralleled here in St. Paul's metaphor of the wild 


olive branches grafted into the stock of a good olive from which 
some of the original branches have been temporarily cut off: the 
firstfruit suggests Mamillus (as in III.ii.98); the root and tree 
of good olive suggest Hermione and Perdita; the branches 
broken off, Leontes; and the wild branches grafted in, Florizel 
and Polixenes. The parallel would be striking enough even if 
Shakespeare had not used the same metaphor. But he did use 
it, of course, and he gave it appropriately to Polixenes, the 
"highminded" Gentile of the play. 

Perdita has just been explaining that her garden contains no 
gillyflowers, because they are hybrids, "Nature's bastards": "For 
I have heard it said / There is an art which in their piedness 
shares / With great creating Nature/' To this Polixenes replies: 

Say there be; 

Yet Nature is made better by no mean 
But Nature makes that mean; so, over that art 
Which you say adds to Nature, is an art 
That Nature makes. You see, sweet maid, we 


A gentler scion to the wildest stock, 
And make conceive a bark of baser kind 
By bud of nobler race. This is an art 
Which does mend Nature, change it rather, but 
The art itself is Nature. 


Polixenes, to be sure, uses the figure here with unconscious 
irony, thinking of his son Florizel as the "bud of nobler race" 
and Perdita as "bark of baser kind." But we the audience, with 
our better vision, have already identified Perdita as the good 
olive tree in this grove and Florizel as the sprig of wild olive. 
We excuse Polixenes' ignorance and perhaps pardon his pride; 
but we see his attitude (which is precisely that described by St. 
Paul) as something of which he must be purged, "lest he 
continue wise in his own conceit" and be himself cut off. Even 
so, we acknowledge that the blindness of Polixenes is necessary; 


for without that blindness there can be no return of the heir, 
no reconciliation of estranged friends in human brotherhood, 
and no final outpouring of grace for anyone. As St. Paul sums 
it up in verse 12 of that same chapter in Romans, "God hath 
concluded them all in unbelief that he might have mercy upon 
all." Blindness is for Polixenes, as for Leontes and for all of us, 
the prerequisite for mercy, and mercy crowns the end. 

Thus three of the plays that we have considered in this study 
The Merchant of Venice, Measure for Measure, and finally 
The Winter's Tale each representing a different period in 
Shakespeare's development, have rung into the sphere of a 
fictitious story something of the Christian view of the historical 
redemption of the human race. Of these three, The Winter's 
Tale with its suggestion of analogies for Jew, Gentile, Christ, 
Paul, and the Christian church comes closest to incorporating 
the whole view. The Merchant of Venice gives us a more 
suggestive examination of man's redeemer; and Measure for 
Measure provides a more searching study of the conflict between 
law and grace and the reconciliation of the two at the Last 
Judgment. But in The Winter's Tale Shakespeare included 
something of all these matters and in addition courageously 
undertook to suggest the miraculous aspect of divine mercy that 
has always made Christian teaching about the subject seem 
"foolishness to the Greeks." Here, when he brought Hermione 
back after sixteen years from what everyone thought was her 
grave, he ran the risk, even in an age of romances and tragi- 
comedy, of having his denouement "hooted at / Like an old 
tale" (V.iii.116-117) by sophisticated audiences. We have seen 
that nothing in his source suggested that he end his play in this 
way. The idea for doing so seems to have been purely his own. 
Consequently many readers have regarded the play as a whimsical 
though lovely fairytale with serious overtones here and there. 
From the Christian point of view, however, The Winter's Tale 
makes the hardest possible sense, though with no diminution of 
loveliness, as having ended in the only possible way for a play 
designed to suggest not only man's utter folly and helplessness 


but also his only hope of salvation. Here in the end those who 
survive are "precious winners all/' as Paulina calls them (V.iii. 
131); and they are that because the dead has miraculously come 
to life and they have been granted grace to see the resurrection. 
The Winter's Tale makes no demands upon us beyond this 
that we, too, see the miracle of resurrection. It does not preach; 
it offers no moral, no lesson, no paradigm for truth. Like St. 
Paul's prophetic discourse, it is in itself a realization, a legitimate 
object of knowledge; and to come to know it is to share some of 
the happiness of discovery that Shakespeare must have felt on 
seeing a meaningful shape emerge from the cloudy surface of 
Greene's tale. All that we really need to be able to share 
Shakespeare's vision, here in The Winter's Tale and in the other 
plays, is that "whole heart and free mind" which Mark Van 
Doren once wisely asked his readers to bring to their study of 
Shakespeare 1 that and the ancient habit of seeing which once 
caused St. Augustine to pronounce the whole world "a fair field, 
fresh with the odor of Christ's name." 

THIS STUDY ends with The Winter's Tale, but it might have 
gone on to include chapters on The Tempest, where the demon- 
stration of Shakespeare's habit of thinking analogically would 
have been fairly easy, and Henry VIII, where the habit is still 
discernible though perhaps less pervasive in its influence. It 
might also have included examinations of such plays as Twelfth 
Night, All's Well, Lear, and Coriolanus, all of which bear the 
marks of that same habit of thinking it might be better to say 
habit of seeing which was referred to earlier in this study as 
"Hippolyta's view." Yet those plays which we have considered, 
from Richard II to The Winter's Tale, illustrate fairly well the 
range and variety of the operation of this habit in Shakespeare's 
plays, where almost invariably it does its work within a demon- 
strably Christian context. In each play Shakespeare's trans- 
figuration of a tale, whether historical or not, has produced a 


"dream" that is more real than the source from which it was 
derived; and in each the transfiguration has included some aspect 
of the Christian faith, which was for Shakespeare's audience, and 
for his early readers at least, man's closest approach to ultimate 

That habit of seeing is never entirely extinct, but nowadays it 
seems to be relatively rare. Apparently the unlettered audiences 
of our earliest vernacular plays, the fourteenth-century cycles, 
had some experience of it. We may be sure that they did not 
concern themselves with the various twofold, threefold, and 
fourfold explanations of multiplex intelligentia. But they did 
know that the New Testament was written large in the Old 
and that future glory was manifest in the Incarnation of the 
Gospels. In short, they understood that in the text "I am the 
way, and the truth, and the light/' is all that man on earth can 
know and needs to know. The secularization of the cycles, 
which, in their Old Testament plays at least, had employed 
allegorical interpretation of Scripture, provided an inadvertent 
but positive step in the direction of secular application of the 
schema. For here were popular plays, standing almost at the 
beginning of one of the greatest dramatic literatures the world 
has seen, asking to be looked upon as history, allegory, trope, 
and anagoge, all in one. It was inevitable, then, that with the 
increasing secularization of literature in the Renaissance some 
writers and readers should bring to a more realistic fiction, if 
not the formal schema of fourfold interpretation, at least the 
presuppositions upon which that schema rested. That is, it 
was inevitable that some poets should still be able to look at a 
story from Greek or Roman myth or a story of Italian domestic 
life or an incident from history as potentially having significance, 
though perhaps not authority, analogous to the fables of 
Scripture as being in some sense an incarnation of truth rather 
than an exposition of it. 

One must be careful here to say some writers, some poets, and 
some readers. Admittedly, almost any Christian in any age will 
be willing to acknowledge that to some extent the events and 


objects of this world provide analogies with, or imperfect 
incarnations of, divine actions; yet it can hardly be said that 
writers generally even in sixteenth-century England went around 
looking for such things in the subjects of their poems, tales, and 
plays. The evidence that Shakespeare did, however, appears 
throughout his work, clearly in Richard II and with increasing 
clarity and frequency thereafter. G. Wilson Knight has gone 
so far as to say that in Shakespearean tragedy the "unique act 
of the Christ sacrifice can ... be felt as central" and that 
"Shakespeare's final plays celebrate the victory and glory, the 
resurrection and renewal, that in the Christian story and in its 
reflection in the Christian ritual succeed the sacrifice/' 2 This 
is closer to the truth than a good many modern scholars are 
willing to acknowledge. Profitable as it is to consider Shake- 
speare's plays as studies in human relations or as reflections of 
the Elizabethan world picture, we are lingering on the periphery 
when we limit our attention to such matters. Whatever else 
they may be, Shakespeare's plays are fundamentally develop- 
ments of the great archetypal myths of the human race, whereby 
his dramatic fables, whether drawn from English history, Roman 
history, Italian novella, or English fabliau, are revealed as 
participating by analogy in an action which, from the poet's 
point of view, is Christian, divine, and eternal. 


Chapter One 

1 A notable exception is Howard Nemerov's brilliant essay, "The 
Marriage of Theseus and Hippolyta," Kenyan Review, XVIII (1956), 
633-641, which also interprets the Theseus-Hippolyta relationship as a 
parable about poetry, but in a somewhat different way. Nemerov sees 
the two characters as representative of two kinds of poetry, both 
necessary, and concludes, "Their wedded life, with its vicious quarrels 
and long intervals of separation (not extending as yet to final divorce) 
is the history of poetry in the English language." 

2 Edwyn Bevan, Symbolism and Belief (New York, 1938), 256-257. 

3 Dante's "Convivio" trans. William Walrond Jackson (Oxford, 
1909), 73. 

4 See Richard Hamilton Green, "Dante's 'Allegory of Poets' and the 
Mediaeval Theory of Poetic Fiction," Comparative Literature, IX (1957), 
118-128, and Charles S. Singleton's corrective rejoinder, "The Irreducible 
Dove," ibid., 129-135. 

5 Singleton, 130. See also Singleton's Dante Studies I (Cambridge, 
Mass., 1953), 13-16, 29. 

6 Letter XI, trans. Charles Sterrett Latham in A Translation of Dante's 
Eleven Letters, ed. George Rice Carpenter (Boston, 1891), 193. 

7 Summa Theologica, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican 
Province (22 vols., London, 1920-1925), Pars I, Q. 1, Art. 10. 

8 Any reasonably complete survey of the subject will show this. See, 
for example, Frederic W. Farrar, History of Interpretation (New York, 
1886), 135-152. 

9 Origen, who used a threefold system of exegesis, had a tendency to 
use his meanings in this way; see his De PrincipiiSy IV.ii.4, trans. G. W. 
Butterworth (London, 1936), 275-276. See also R. P. C. Hanson, 
Allegory and Event (London, 1959), 245-246. The most influential 
example of this tendency is, of course, the work of Dionysius the Pseudo- 
Areopagite; see especially "On the Heavenly Hierarchy" in The Works 
of Dionysius the Areopagite, trans. John Parker (2 vols., London, 1897- 
1899), II. 

228 NOTES 

10 This was especially true of Hugh of St. Victor and his successors, 
who insisted upon the importance of the literal sense but consistently 
taught the superiority of the spiritual senses; see Beryl Smalley, The Study 
of the Bible in the Middle Ages (Oxford, 1952), 87-106, 242-263. 

11 Ruth Wallerstein, Studies in Seventeenth-Century Poetic (Madison, 
1950), 27-58. 

12 City of God, xvi.37. 

13 See particularly the conclusion to The Dry Salvages. 

14 Arnold Williams, The Common Expositor: An Account of the 
Renaissance Commentaries on Genesis, 1527-1633 (Chapel Hill, 1948), 

15 For an account of the place of typology in the history of Christian 
exegesis see Jean Dani61ou, Sacramentum Futuri (Paris, 1950). See also 
Rosemond Tuve's A Study of George Herbert (Chicago and London, 
1952) for much useful material about the prevalence of typology in 
English devotional literature and iconography. 

16 Erich Auerbach, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western 
Literature, trans. Willard R. Trask (Princeton, 1953), 74. 

17 Bartholomew Chamberlaine, The Passion of Christ, and the benefits 
thereby (London, 1595), sfg. B7 r -B7 y . 

18 John Foxe, A Sermon preached at the Christening of a certaine lew, 
at London . . . Containing an exposition of the xi. Chapter of S. Paul to 
the Romanes, trans. James Bell (London, 1578), rig. D8 v -El r . 

19 The Wedding Garment, in The Works of Henry Smith, ed. Thomas 
Smith (2 vols., Edinburgh, 1866-1867), I. 

20 Henry Ainsworth, Annotations Vpon the Five Bookes of Moses, 
and the Psalmes (London, 1622). 

21 William Whitaker, A Disputation on Holy Scripture, Against the 
Papists, especially Bellarmine and Stapleton, ed. trans. William Fitzgerald 
(Cambridge, 1849), 405. 

22 Whitaker, 407-408. 

23 Essays in Divinity, ejl. Evelyn M. Simpson (Oxford, 1952), 20. 

24 A Lecture or Exposition upon a part of the v. Chapter of the Epistle 
to the Hebrues (1572), from Maister Derings Works (Middleburg [?], 
1590), sig. C4 r -C4 v . 

25 See Richmond Noble, Shakespeare's Biblical Knowledge and Use of 
the Book of Common Prayer (London, 1935) . 

26 Helen Gardner, The Limits of Literary Criticism: Reflections on the 
Interpretation of Poetry and Scripture, University of Durham Riddell 
Memorial Lectures, Twenty-eighth Series (London, 1956), 46-55. 

27 Gardner, 55. 

28 But one should not overlook the valuable comments by S. L. Bethell, 

NOTES 229 

Shakespeare and the Popular Dramatic Tradition (Durham, N. C., 1944), 

Chapter Two 

1 E. M. W. Tillyard, Shakespeare's History Plays (New York, 1946), 

2 J. Dover Wilson, ed., Richard II (Cambridge, Eng., 1939), xiii. 

B F. M. Cornford, The Origin of Attic Comedy (London, 1914), 53 ff. 

4 "An Exhortation to Obedience/' in Certain Sermons or Homilies 
Appointed to Be Read in Churches in the time of Queen Elizabeth of 
Famous Memory (2 vols., London, 1846), I, 119. 

5 See }. Mitchell Morse, "Cain, Abel, and Joyce," ELH, XXII (1955), 

Chapter Three 

1 Sir Israel Gollancz, Allegory and Mysticism in Shakespeare. A 
Medievalist on "The Merchant of Venice" (London, 1931). 

2 See Hope Traver, "Four Daughters of God," PMLA, XL (1925), 
44-92, and J. D. Rea, "Shylock and the Processus Belid" Philological 
Quarterly,VII (1929), 311-313. 

3 Benjamin N. Nelson, The Idea of Usury (Princeton, 1949), 144 n. 

4 Nevill Coghill, "The Governing Idea. Essays in Stage Interpretation 
of Shakespeare," Shakespeare Quarterly (Vienna), I (1947), 12. 

5 For a convenient account of the provenance and dissemination of 
this work see Sidney }. H. Herrtage's introduction to The Early English 
Versions of the Gesta Romanorum, Early English Text Society, Extra 
Series, XXXIII (1879). 

6 Gesta Romanorum, ed. Herrtage, 155. 

7 Quoted by John R. Brown, ed., The Merchant of Venice, New Arden 
Series (London, 1955), 174. 

S IZ Pecorone, trans. Geoffrey Bullough, in Narrative and Dramatic 
Sources of Shakespeare, I (New York, 1957), 463-476. 

9 Antonio repeats his condition to the gaoler (III.iii.35-36) : "pray God 
Bassanio come / To see me pay his debt, and then I care not." 

10 The Works of lohn Boys, Doctor in Diuinitie and Deane of Canter- 
burie (London, 1622), 803. An Exposition of the Proper Psalmes Vsed 
in Ovr English Litvrgie was published separately in 1616. 

11 Boys, 804. 

12 Brown, ed., The Merchant of Venice, Ivii-lvui. 

230 NOTES 

"Coghill, 16. 

14 E. E. Stoll, Shakespeare Studies: Historical and Comparative in 
Method (New York, 1927), 255-256. 
"Seepage 12. 

16 A Sermon preached at the Christening of a certaine lew, sig. D8 v -El r . 

17 The suggestion, supported by Gollancz, that her name is that of 
Milcah, daughter of Haran (Genesis xn.29), spelled as Iscah in some 
early Bibles and glossed as "she that looketh out," is hardly credible. 

18 See I Corinthians vn.14. 

Chapter Four 
1 J. Dover Wilson, The Fortunes of Falstaff (Cambridge, 1943), 20. 

Chapter Five 

1 Kenneth Muir, "Troilus and Cressida," Shakespeare Survey, VIII 
(1955), 38. 

2 Noble, Shakespeare's Biblical Knowledge and Use of the Book of 
Common Prayer, 214. 

3 See Richard Chenevix Trench, Notes on the Parables of Our Lord, 
12th ed. (New York, 1870), 111-114. 

4 See H. C. Goddard, The Meaning of Shakespeare (Chicago, 1951), 

s Noble, 214. 

Chapter Six 

1 R. W. Chambers, "Measure for Measure," in Man's Unconquerable 
Mind: Studies of English Writers from Bede to A. E. Housman and 
W. P. Ker (London, 1949), 227-310; Roy W. Battenhouse, ^Measure for 
Measure and the Christian Doctrine of Atonement," PMLA, LXI 
(1946), 1029-1059; Elizabeth M. Pope, "The Renaissance Background 
of Measure JOT Measure" Shakespeare Survey, II (1949), 66-82; Nevill 
Coghill, "Comic Form in Measure for Measure" Shakespeare Survey, 
VIII (1955), 14-27. 

2 Gardner, The Limits of Literary Criticism, 60. 

3 G. Wilson Knight, The Wheel of Fire: Interpretations of Shake- 
spearian Tragedy with Three New Essays, 4th ed. rev. (London, 1949), 

NOTES 231 

4 Chambers, 304. 

5 Battenhouse, 1053. 
6 Coghill, 19-26. 

7 Wilson Knight, 2. 
s Coghill, 22-25. 

9 Battenhouse, 1038, n. 29. 

10 John Hooper, Bishop of Worcester and Gloucester, "A Godly 
and most necessary Annotations in the xiii Chapyter too the Romans/' 
in Later Writings of Bishop Hooper, together with His Letters and Other 
Pieces, ed. Charles Nevinson, Parker Society Publications, Vol. XXI 
(Cambridge, 1852), 99. 

11 Gardner, 60. 

12 M. C. Bradbrook, "Authority, Truth, and Justice in Measure for 
Measure" Review of English Studies, XVII (1941), 385-399. See also 
L. C. Knights, "The Ambiguity of Measure for Measure," Scrutiny, X 
(1942), 222; and F. R. Leavis, "The Greatness of Measure for Measure" 
Scrutiny, X (1942), 241. 

Chapter Seven 

1 Sylvan Barnet, "Some Limitations of a Christian Approach to Shake- 
speare," ELH, XXII (1955), 85-86. 

2 Sir Philip Sidney, The Defense of Poesy, ed. Albert S. Cook (Boston, 
1890), 8-9. 

Chapter Eight 

1 E. M. W. Tillyard, Shakespeare's Problem Plays (Toronto, 1949), 34. 

2 1. J. Semper, Hamlet without Tears (Dubuque, 1946), 14-20. 

8 G. R. Elliott, Scourge and Minister: A Study of "Hamlet" (Durham, 

4 Fredson Bowers, "Hamlet as Minister and Scourge," PMLA, LXX 
(1955), 740-749. 

5 Francis Fergusson, The Idea of a Theater: The Art of Drama in 
Changing Perspective (Princeton, 1949), 98-142. 

6 Fergusson, 141. 

7 J. Dover Wilson, What Happens in Hamlet, 3rd ed. (Cambridge, 
Eng., 1951), 55 ff.; Roy W. Battenhouse, "The Ghost in Hamlet: A 
Catholic 'Linchpin'?" Studies in Philology, XLVIII (1951), 161-192; 
Robert H. West, "King Hamlet's Ambiguous Ghost," PMLA, LXX 

232 NOTES 

(1955), 1107-1117. See also I. J. Semper's reply to Battenhouse, "The 
Ghost in Hamlet: Pagan or Christian," The Month, CXCV (1953), 
s West, 1115. 

9 West, 1107n. 

10 Semper has perceived something of the importance of this; see 
Hamlet without Tears, 19. 

'^ii>Semper, Hamlet without Tears, 19 ff. ' 

',3 2 Summa Theologica> trans. Fathers of the English Dominican -Prov- 
ince, II-II,"Q. 108, Art. 1. 

13 Bowers, 747n. 

14 Bowers, 746. 

15 See Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews (7 vols., Philadelphia, 
1909-1938), I, 116-118; and also Angelo S. Rappoport, Myth and Legend 
of Ancient Israel (3 vols., London, 1928), I, 198. 

16 Patrologiae Latinae, ed. Jacques Paul Migne (221 vols., Paris, 1844- 
1864), CLVIII, 39-44. 

17 The incident is treated as an episode of the Noah play in the Hegge 
cycle or Ludus Coventriae, ed. K. S. Block, Early English Text Society 
(London, 1922). Miss Block believes that the source of this episode is 
the Histona Scholastica (pp. lii-liii); but Hardin Craig has noted the 
wide dissemination of the story and suggested that there may have been 
other sources for the play, English Religious Drama of the Middle Ages 
(Oxford, 1955), 257-258. 

18 For a discussion of her allusions here to Hamlet, Hamlet's father, 
Polonius, and perhaps also Claudius, see Roy Walker, The Time Is out 
of Joint: A Study of "Hamlet" (London, 1948), 124-128. 

Chapter Nine 

1 The source of the story is Novel VII of the Third Decade of Giraldi 
Cinthio's Hecatommithi (Monreale, 1565). 

2 See especially Paul N. Siegel, Shakespearean Tragedy and the Eliza- 
bethan Compromise (New York, 1957), 119 ff., and Roy W. Battenhouse, 
"Shakespearean Tragedy: A Christian Interpretation," in The Tragic 
Vision and the Christian Faith, ed. Nathan A. Scott, Jr. (New York, 
1957), 87-89. 

3 City of God, xvi.1-2. 

4 Williams, The Common Expositor, 117-118. 

5 See R. H. Charles, ed., The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the 
Old Testament in English, II (Oxford, 1913), 134-137. 

NOTES 233 

6 Launcelot Andrews, The Wonderfull Combate (for Gods glorie and 
Mans saluation) betweene Christ and Satan. Opened in seuen most 
excelent learned and zealous Sermons, vpon the Temptations of Christ, 
in the wildernes, &c. (London, 1592), sz'g. 32 V . 

7 C. J. Sisson, New Readings in Shakespeare (2 vols., Cambridge, Eng., 
1956), II, 246-247. 

s Sisson, II, 251. 

Chapter Ten 

1 Noble, Shakespeare's Biblical Knowledge and Use of the Book of 
Common Prayer, 232-236. 

2 Jane H. Jack, "Macbeth, King James, and the Bible," ELH, XXII 
(1955), 173-193. As her title suggests, Miss Jack stresses as a link 
between Shakespeare and the Bible several works by James I, notably 
Daemonologie, Basilikon Doron, and a 1603 edition of his sermon on 
Revelation xx. 

3 W. C. Curry, Shakespeare's Philosophical Patterns (Baton Rouge, 
1937), 97-137. 

4 Roy Walker, The Time Is Free (London, 1949), 72. 

5 Jack, 180. See also G. R. Elliott, Dramatic Providence in "Macbeth": 
A Study of Shakespeare's Tragic Theme of Humanity and Grace (Prince- 
ton, 1958), 7-8. 

6 Francis Fergusson, "Macbeth as the Imitation of an Action," in 
The Human Image in Dramatic Literature (New York, 1957), 115-125. 

7 Fergusson, "Macbeth as the Imitation of an Action," 118. 

8 Walker, The Time Is Free, 8. 

9 Elliott, Dramatic Providence in "Macbeth," 16 ff. Among the 
"blackeners" that he cites are Walker and Curry, whose works have 
already been referred to, Henri Fluchere, Shakespeare (Toulouse, 1948), 
and M. D. H. Parker, The Slave of Life (London, 1955) . 

10 For example, John Meredith, The Sinne of Blasphemie Against the 
Holy Ghost Scholastically examined (London, 1622), and Sebastian 
Benefield, The Sinne Against the Holy Ghost Discovered and other 
Christian doctrines delivered: in twelve Sermons vpon part of the tenth 
Chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrewes (Oxford, 1615). 

11 John Dennison, Fowre Sermons (London, 1620), 103-104. 

12 Dennison, 146. 

13 See Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v., "Apostasy." 

14 "Of Repentance and true Reconciliation unto God," in Certain 
Sermons or Homilies Appointed to Be Read in Churches in the Time 
of Queen Elizabeth of Famous Memory, II, 568. 

234 NOTES 

Chapter Eleven 

1 Franklin M. Dickey, Not Wisely but too Well: Shakespeare's Love 
Tragedies (San Marino, 1957), 144-176. 

2 Dickey, 177. 

3 M. R. Ridley's New Arden edition of Antony and Cleopatra (Cam- 
bridge, Mass., 1954) contains a convenient reprinting of the pertinent 
section from the 1579 edition of North's Plutarch (pp. 258 ff.). 

4 See J. Leeds Barrel's analysis of this as sloth, "Antony and Pleasure," 
Journal of English and Germanic Philology, LVII (1958), 708-720. 

5 See Ridley, 269-270. 

6 See Matthew xxvn.46 and Mark xv.34. 

7 For a full treatment of this piece of typology see F. Michael Krouse, 
Milton's Samson and the Christian Tradition (Princeton, 1949). 

8 Contrary to the practice of many modern editors, I have retained 
Folio's -when in line 38 and rejected Pope's where. C. J. Sisson, defending 
the substitution of where in his New Readings in Shakespeare, II, 273, 
argues that when "seems a tasteless conceit and out of key." Whether 
it is tasteless or not depends upon one's point of view, but it is certainly 
not out of key. Where, however, fits almost equally well with the 
interpretation I have given. 

Chapter Twelve 

1 See Colin Still, Shakespeare's Mystery Play: A Study of "The Temp- 
est" (London, 1921), and Nevill Coghill, "The Basis of Shakespearian 
Comedy: A Study in Medieval Affinities," Essays and Studies, III (1950), 

2 T. S. Eliot, "Ben Jonson," The Sacred Wood. Essays on Poetry and 
Criticism, 6th ed. (London, 1948), 116. 

Chapter Thirteen 

1 Mark Van Doren, Shakespeare, 2nd printing (New York, 1954), xii. 
First published in 1939. 

2 G. Wilson Knight, Principles of Shakespearian Production (London, 
1936), 234. 


Abel: see Cain and Abel 

Adam: Cassio compared to, in Othello , 
140-152 passim 

Aeschylus, 25 

AiiiSworth, Henry: Annotations Upon 
the Five Books of Moses, 1 3 

Allegory: see also analogy, typology; 
Dante on, 4-7; of poets and theo- 
logians compared, 5-7; as Incarna- 
tion, 7-10; and typology, 10-11 

Analogy: see also Adam, allegory, Cain 
and Abel, Christ, crucifixion, Incar- 
nation, God, Lamech, Samson, Sa- 
tan, scriptural interpretation, typol- 
ogy; Shakespeare's use of, 113-114, 
210, 213; as a form of knowledge, 

Antony and Cleopatra, 173-191 

Apostasy: in Macbeth, 160-172 

Aquinas, St. Thomas: on interpretation 
of Scripture, 7-9; on revenge, 116- 
117, 125-126 

Auerbach, Erich: Mimesis, 10-11 

Augustine, St.: and the doctrine of 
Incarnation, 9, 10, 140, 223 

Barnet, Sylvan: on Christian tragedy, 
109, 110 

Barrel, J. Leeds: "Antony and 
Pleasure," 234 

Battenhouse, Roy W.: "The Ghost in 
Hamlet" 123; "Measure for Measure 
and the Christian Doctrine of Atone- 
ment," 86, 87, 89, 105, 107; "Shake- 
spearean Tragedy: A Christian In- 
terpretation," 232 

Beaumont and Fletcher, plays of: com- 
pared with Cymbeline, 192-193, 204- 
206; compared with The Winter's 
Tale, 207 

Bethell, S. L.: Shakespeare and the 
Popular Dramatic Tradition, 228-229 

Bevan, Edwyn: Symbolism and Belief, 

Bible: variations among Elizabethan 
translations of, 52; special use of 
allusions to in Troilus and Cressida, 

Genesis, 118; Job, 103; Psalms, 34, 
42-43, 154, 179-180; Proverbs, 166; 
Ezekiel, 202; Ecclesiasticus, 124; 
Matthew, 24, 28, 70, 77, 79, 83-84, 
88, 89, 91, 95, 99, 124, 163, 219, 
234; Mark, 24, 234; John, 34, 95; 
Romans, 25, 48-50, 61, 105-106, 
202, 205, 212-213, 214-215, 219-222; 
I Corinthians, 65, 110, 140, 155; II 
Corinthians, 140; Ephesians, 34, 52, 
57-58, 60-61, 63; Colossians, 52, 61, 
63; Hebrews, 28, 29, 149, 164-165, 
200, 201; Revelation, 105 

Biblia Pauperum, 28 

Boccaccio, G.: Decameron, 193 

Bonaventura, St.: and doctrine of 
Incarnation, 10 

Bowers, Fredson: "Hamlet as Minister 
and Scourge," 117, 129 

Boys, John: An Exposition of the 
Proper Psalmes, 42-43 

Bradbrook, M. C.: "Authority, Truth, 
and Justice in Measure for Measure," 
107, 231 

Bradley, A. C., 20, 173 

Brown, John R.: on The Merchant of 
Venice, 43 

Bunyan, John: centrality of Incarnation 
in, 10 

Cain and Abel, story of: used ty- 
pologically in Scripture and Mass, 28; 
and the Jews, 28, 48; used as analogy 



Cain and Abel (continued) : 

in Richard II, 28-32, 118-119; used 
as analogy in Hamlet, 118-121, 134- 
135; general subject of typology, 118- 

Case, R. H, 173 

Castle of Perseverance, 36, 42 

Chamberlaine, Bartholomew: The 
Passion of Christ, 11-12 

Chambers, R. W.: "Measure for 
Measure" 86, 89 

Chester plays: doctrine of Incarnation 
in, 10 

Christ: see also allegory, analogy, 
Christian tragedy, Incarnation, typol- 
ogy; as creator and poet, 4; Noah as 
type of, 140 

reflected by analogy in Richard II, 
23-26, 27-31 passim; in Merchant of 
Venice, 38-39, 40-43; in Troilus and 
Cressida, 80-82; in Hamlet, 135-138; 
in Macbeth, 163-165; in Antony and 
Cleopatra, 179-183, 191; in Winter's 
Tale, 210-214 

Christian poetry: see also poetry; 
defined, 3-4 

Christian tragedy: explained, 109-115; 
subject matter of, 113; compared 
with Sophoclean tragedy, 111-113; in 
Hamlet, 135-138; in Othello, 148- 

Cinthio, Giraldi: Hecatommithi, 139, 

Coghill, Nevill: on The Merchant of 
Venice, 35, 37; interpretation of Shy- 
lock, 46; "Comic Form in Measure 
for Measure," 86, 89; on Lucio as a 
figure of Satan, 103; 'The Basis of 
Shakespearian Comedy," 234 

Comedy of Errors, 19, 20 

Comestor, Peter: Historia Scholastica, 

Cornford, F. M.: The Origin of Attic 
Comedy, 22 

Craig, Hardin: English Religious Drama 
of the Middle Ages, 232 

Cromwell, Oliver: and return of Jews 
to England, 49 

Crucifixion: suggested by Duncan's 
murder, 163-165; suggested by Hermi- 
one's trial, 211 

Curry, W. C.: Shakespeare's Philo- 
sophical Patterns, 153 
Cymbeline, 192-206 

Dani61ou, Jean: Sacramentum Futuri, 

Dante: on allegory, 4-7; Convito, 5; 
Epistle to Can Grande, 6-7; and 
doctrine of Incarnation, 9-10; view 
of poetry implicit in Commedia, 113 

Death: Christian view of, 110 

Dennison, John: "A Sermon," 161, 162 

Dering, Edward: A Lecture upon 
Hebrews, 15 

Dickey, Franklin M.: Not Wisely but 
too Well, 173 

Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite: "On 
the Heavenly Hierarchy," 227 

Donne, John: and doctrine of Incarna- 
tion, 9-10; and typology, 14-15 

Election: doctrine of, 40 

Eliot, T. S.: and doctrine of Incarna- 
tion, 10; on Beaumont and Fletcher, 
206; "The Dry Salvages," 228 

Elliott, G. R.: Dramatic Providence 
in "Macbeth," 156; Scourge and 
Minister, 117 

Famous Victories of Henry V, 54, 62 
Farrar, Frederic W.: History of 

Interpretation, 227 
Fergusson, Francis: The Human Image 

in Dramatic Literature, 154, 155; 

The Idea of a Theater, 117-118 
Fiorentino, Ser Giovanni: II Pecorone, 

36-37, 45, 47 
Four Daughters of God, debate of, 34, 

41-43, 114 
Foxe, John: A Sermon preached at the 

Christening of a certaine lew, 12, 49 
Friendship, Renaissance doctrine of, 


Gardner, Helen: The Limits of Literary 

Criticism, 16, 87, 88, 107 
Geneva New Testament (1557), 52 



Gesta Romanorum, 35-36, 44-45, 47 

Ginzberg, Louis: The Legends of the 
Jews, 232 

God, office of: in Othello, 140-152 

Goddard, H. C.: The Meaning of 
Shakespeare, 230 

Gollancz, Sir Israel: Allegory and Mys- 
ticism in Shakespeare, 34-35, 37; on 
the meaning of the name "Jessica," 

Gosson, Stephen, 34 

Great Bible (1539), 52 

Green, Richard Hamilton: on Dante's 
"allegory of poets," 227 

Greene, Robert: Pandosto, 208-209 

Hamlet, 68, 116-138, 153 

Hanson, R. P. C.: Allegory and Event, 


Harington, Sir John: on allegory, 9 
Henry IV (parts 1 and 2), 52-67, 153 
Henry V, 54,55 

Henry VI (parts 1, 2, and 3), 20 
Hippolyta: comments on poetry in A 

Midsummer Night's Dream, 2-4 
History, Christian view of: in Merchant 

of Venice, 48-50; in Measure for 

Measure, 107; in Winter's Tale, 222- 


Holinshed's Chronicles, 193 
Homilies, Elizabethan, 23, 26; on 

apostasy, 161 
Hooper, John, Bishop of Worcester 

and Gloucester: on Romans xm, 

Hugh of St. Victor: and doctrine of 

Incarnation, 10; on Scriptural in- 
terpretation, 227 

Incarnation, doctrine of: relation to 
allegory, 7-9; in Dante, 9-10; in 
Augustine, Bonaventure, Hugh of St. 
Victor, and John Donne, 9-10 

Jack, Jane H.: "Macbeth, King James 

and the Bible," 153 
Jews: Elizabethan attitude toward, 48- 

Jews (continued) : 

49; representation of in Merchant of 
Venice, 48-51; reunion with Chris- 
tendom in Winter's Tale, 212-222 

Jonson, Ben: structural innovations of, 

Kemp, Will: as suggestion for Falstaff, 

King Lear, 111 

Knight, G. Wilson: Principles of Shake- 
spearian Production, 225; Wheel of 
Fire, 86, 88, 89; mentioned, 173 

Knights, L. C.: "The Ambiguity of 
Measure for Measure," 231 

Krouse, F. Michael: Milton's Samson 
and the Christian Tradition, 234 

Kyd, Thomas: The Spanish Tragedy, 
121, 122 

Lamech: possible allusion to in 

Hamlet, 134-135 

Lascelles, Mary: Shakespeare's "Meas- 
ure for Measure," 87, 88 
Leavis, F. R.: "The Greatness of 

Measure for Measure," 231 
Life of Sir John Oldcastle, 62 
Love's Labour's Lost, 19, 20 
Ludus Coventriae: use of Lamech story 
in, 232 


Macbeth, 111, 153-172 

Marlowe, Christopher: Jew of Malta, 


Measure for Measure, 86-108, 222-223 
Merchant of Venice, 33-51, 108, 222- 


Merry Wives of Windsor, 61 
Midsummer Night's Dream, theory of 

poetry in, 2-4 
Milton, John: Paradise Lost compared 

with Othello, 151 
Morality play: compared with 

Cymbeline, 205 
Morse, J. Mitchell: "Cain, Abel, and 

Joyce," 229 
Muir, Kenneth: "Troilus and Cressida," 




Nelson, Benjamin N.: The Idea of 

Usury, 35 
Nemerov, Howard: "The Marriage of 

Theseus and Hippolyta," 227 
Noble, Richmond: Shakespeare's 

Biblical Knowledge, 70, 77, 153 

Origen: De Principiis, 227 
Othello, 111, 139-152, 153 

Pater, Walter, 21 

Paul, St.: see also Bible; on the Tews, 

Piers Plowman: doctrine of Incarnation 
in, 10; mentioned, 36, 42 

Plutarch's Lives, 176, 179, 182 

Poetry: as defined by Theseus and 
Hippolyta in A Midsummer Night's 
Dream, 2-4; Christian view of, 3-4; 
and symbolism, 3-4; as creation, 4 

Pope, Elizabeth M.: "The Renaissance 
Background of Measure for Meas- 
ure," 86 

Processus Belial, 47 

Rappoport, Angelo S.: Myth and 
Legend of Ancient Israel, 232 

Rare Triumphs of Love and Fortune, 
The, 193 

Rea, J. D.: "Shylock and the 
Processus Belial" 34 

Redemption, theme of: in Merchant 
of Venice, Measure for Measure, and 
Winter's Tale, 222-223 

Revenge: Aquinas on, 116-117; Eliza- 
bethan attitude toward, 124 

Richard II, 19-32, 107, 113, 118-119, 
^180, 225 

Richard III, as melodrama, 20 

Ridley, M. R., ed. Antony and 
Cleopatra, 234 

Ritual: use of in Richard II, 21-22 

Romeo and Juliet, 19, 20 7 194 

Samson: Antony compared to, 181 
Satan, analogies with: in Measure for 

Satan (continued) : 

Measure, 103-105; in Othello, 140- 

Scriptural interpretation: in multiple 

senses, 4-9, 224; Aquinas on, 7-9; in 

Shakespeare's time, 10-17; use of ty- 
pology in, 10-17 
Second Shepherds' Play: doctrine of 

Incarnation in, 10 
Semper, I. J.: "The Ghost in Hamlet: 

Pagan or Christian," 232; Hamlet 

without Tears, 116, 125, 232 
Shakespeare, William: see names of 

Sidney, Sir Philip: Defense of Poesy, 

Siegel, Paul N.: Shakespearean Tragedy 

and the Elizabethan Compromise, 

Singleton, Charles S.: on Dante's 

"allegory," 6 
Sisson, C. }.: New Readings in 

Shakespeare, 143, 234 
Sleep: theme of, in Macbeth, 166-170 
Smalley, Beryl: The Study of the Bible 

in the Middle Ages, 228 
Smith, Henry: The Wedding Garment, 

Sophocles: mentioned, 25; Oedipus Rex, 

111; view of tragedy compared with 

Christian, 111-113 

Spenser, Edmund: allegory and Incar- 
nation in, 10; Una compared with 

Desdemona, 143 
Stauffer, Donald, 173 
Still, Colin: Shakespeare's Mystery 

Play, 234 

Stoll, E. E.: Shakespeare Studies, 48 
Symbolism: Edwyn Bevan on, 3-4 

Tarlton, Richard: as predecessor to 
Falstaff, 53 

Tempest, The, 118, 193 

Theseus: definition of poetry in Mid- 
summer Night's Dream, 2-4, 5 

Tillyard, E. M. W.: on ritual in Rich- 
ard II, 21; Shakespeare's Problem 
Plays, 116, 118 

Titus Andronicus, 19 

Tragedy: see Christian tragedy 



Tragicomedy: in Cymbeline, 192-193, 
204-206; in Winter's Tale, 207-208 

Traver, Hope: "Four Daughters of 
God," 34 

Trench, Richard Chenevix: Notes on 
the Parables of Our Lord, 230 

Troilus and Cressida, 68-85 

Tuve, Rosemond: A Study of George 
Herbert, 228 

Typology: see also allegory, analogy, 
Cain and Abel, Christ, scriptural in- 
terpretation; definition of, 10; in 
Elizabethan times, 10-16; Shake- 
speare's use of, 16-17; and secular 
history, 25; relation to ritual, 25-26; 
mentioned, 49; Augustine's view of, 

Van Doren, Mark: Shakespeare, 118, 
173, 223 

Walker, Roy: The Time Is Free, 153, 
156; The Time Is Out of Joint, 232 

Wallerstein, Ruth: Studies in Seven- 
teenth-Century Poetic, 9-10 

West, Robert H.: "King Hamlet's 
Ambiguous Ghost," 123 

Whetstone, George: Promos and 
Cassandra, 86, 107 

Whitaker, William: A Disputation on 
Holy Scripture, 13, 14 

Williams, Arnold: The Common 
Expositor, 10, 140-141 

Wilson, J. Dover: on ritual in Richard 
II, 21; The Fortunes of Falstaff, 53; 
What Happens in Hamlet, 123 

Winter's Tale, 108, 207-223 

Wyatt, Sir Thomas: doctrine of 
Incarnation in, 10 

/. A. BRYANT, JR., the author of this book, has 
been awarded the Ph.D. degree by Yale University 
and the M.A. by Vanderbilt University. He now 
teaches courses in Shakespeare and Elizabethan 
drama at Duke University, and has contributed 
articles on Medieval and Renaissance poetry and 
drama to various scholarly periodicals. 

HIPPOLYTA'S VIEW was composed and printed 
by the Division of Printing of the University of Ken- 
tucky. It is set in Linotype Electra, with initials and 
other display in Klingspor Kumlein. The book is 
printed on Warren's Olde Style antique paper and 
bound by the C. J. Krehbiel Company in Holliston's 
Roxite vellum cloth.